Onyx Shares Soar on Positive Study for Liver Cancer Drug

Onyx Pharamaceuticals shares rose sharply after its partner Bayer said results of a Phase 3 study showed that Nexavar significantly extended overall survival in patients with liver cancer by 44%.

The results of the study, which were conducted jointly by Onyx and Bayer, were presented at the 43rd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Hollings Renton, Onyx’s chief executive officer, called the finding a “breakthrough.”

“We’re moving as quickly as we can to get the drug approved and get it to liver cancer patients,” Renton told CNBC’s Mike Huckman Monday. “This is a breakthrough because there’s nothing that has ever worked on this disease.”

Renton said Nexavar next will be tested on skin, lung and breast cancer.

“There’s a great deal more to come,” Renton said.

He said no one cancer drug will cure the disease, but using a combination of new drugs may mean that in the future cancer can be treated as a chronic disease. This would allow patients to manage their illness and “live comfortably” with the disease.

The study compared overall survival in 602 patients suffering from hepatocellular carcinoma, or primary liver cancer, who were administered with Nexavar versus those who took placebo.

The median overall survival was 10.7 months in Nexavar-treated patients compared to 7.9 months in those taking placebo, it said.

"Because there are no therapies that significantly improve survival for the thousands of patients with liver cancer, these findings demonstrate the compelling study results of Nexavar as the new reference standard of care for the first-line treatment of HCC," said Josep M. Llover, co-principal investigator.

Liver cancer is a notoriously hard to treat disease diagnosed in more than half a million people globally each year.

Nexavar, which is the brand name for Sorafenib, attacks cancer with a targeted double-barreled approach. It zeros in on malignant cells themselves and cuts off the blood supply feeding the tumor.

It is believed to work on tumors within the liver and those that have spread elsewhere.

In the study, tumors didn't shrink or disappear but in many cases they also didn't grow.

"You are not curing the disease but you are delaying the progression of the disease significantly and strikingly," said Llovet, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, Spain.

The study was halted early, in February, because of the good results, and patients on dummy pills were switched to sorafenib.

"This is a very good step forward in this disease," said Dr. Emily Chan of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn.

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