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A deluge of new cancer research data hits at 5 pm ET: Here’s what to watch

  • At 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology will release thousands of data sets ahead of its annual conference.
  • The "abstract drop" reveals the progress being made in attacking cancer.
  • The data often move stocks, both large and small.
Vials containing biological samples are stored on ice to keep them fresh before being analysed to see how they are affected by chemotherapy drugs at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute on December 9, 2014 in Cambridge, England.
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images | Cancer Research UK
Vials containing biological samples are stored on ice to keep them fresh before being analysed to see how they are affected by chemotherapy drugs at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute on December 9, 2014 in Cambridge, England.

On the Wednesday evening halfway through the month of May each year, investors, analysts and biotech reporters all sit glued to their computer screens.

At 5 p.m. ET on the dot, the American Society of Clinical Oncology will release thousands of data sets ahead of its annual conference on June 2-6 in Chicago.

This year it's about 5,020.

The "abstract drop" reveals the progress being made in attacking cancer and, inevitably, moves stocks both large and small. Here's what to keep an eye on Wednesday evening and into Thursday:

Immunotherapy

The usual suspects in new drugs that harness the immune system to better target cancer are Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca and Roche. They've developed medicines known as PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors, which essentially reveal cancer cells to our bodies' natural defense systems.

They'll each have their own updates, but analysts are also keeping a close eye this year on Incyte, which is developing a medicine that takes a different immunotherapy approach, called an IDO1 inhibitor. The concept is similar: stopping cancer's ability to evade the immune system. And Incyte is testing its drug, called epacadostat, in combination with both Bristol's Opdivo and Merck's Keytruda to see how and where it works best.

According to Leerink Research, epacadostat reflects $32 a share, or about 28 percent, of Incyte's valuation. Analyst Michael Schmidt says the stock could swing up or down 10 to 15 percent based on whether the data meet the Street's expectations.

NewLink Genetics, Bristol-Myers and Roche's Genentech also have IDO inhibitors in the pipeline.

CAR-T

A subset of immunotherapy, CAR-T stands for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, and it's the focus of a handful of companies' development programs. It involves actually removing a patient's blood cells, genetically modifying them to better identify and attack cancer, multiplying them and then re-infusing them.

Novartis, Kite Pharma, Juno Therapeutics and Bluebird Bio are among companies working in the technology, which has produced dramatic results for patients for whom other therapies have stopped working, but has also turned up serious safety issues, including a number of deaths in clinical trials.

Analysts are specifically watching Bluebird and Juno in the CAR-T space; Bluebird for updates in its program targeting multiple myeloma, and Juno for its program in non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to research from JPMorgan. Both companies are partnered with Celgene.

All the Rest

Analysts are also closely watching Eli Lilly for an update on its experimental breast cancer drug, abemaciclib; biotech company Epizyme, for an update on its experimental medicine tazemetostat targeting certain genetically defined solid tumors; and another immunotherapy agent from drugmaker Nektar, NKTR-214.

Some of the most anticipated data may be revealed in more detail at the actual conference in a few weeks rather than Wednesday evening.

The question for the market this week, according to Leerink's Geoff Porges, "is whether investors will follow the usual rule and buy the abstracts and sell the meeting."

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