GlaxoSmithKline plans to launch five new cancer drugs by 2010, tapping into a $40 billion-a-year market that is growing by 20 percent annually, its research head said on Monday.
Europe's biggest drugmaker has a range of oncology products waiting in the wings, including an oral treatment to starve tumours of blood supply, new cancer vaccines and drugs to help alleviate the symptoms of chemotherapy.
"This late-stage oncology pipeline has the potential, effectively, to deliver five new oncology medicines in the next three years," Moncef Slaoui told reporters ahead of a presentation to investment analysts.
"This is an unprecented objective for a pharmaceutical company."
The total does not include Tykerb, which was launched for breast cancer in the United States in March.
The five new drugs identified for launch in the coming three years are Cervarix, pazopanib, HuMax-CD20, Promacta and Rezonic. The latest research on some of these had already been presented at a major meeting of cancer experts in Chicago this month.
Glaxo wants to establish itself as a major player in the lucrative oncology market, where it has been under-represented in the past, though industry analysts say its ambitions will do little to offset short-term worries about sales and profits.
It suffered a major blow last month after a critical study linked its diabetes drug Avandia to heart-attack risk, hitting demand for its second-biggest selling medicine.
Glaxo shares were off 0.6 percent at 13.18 pounds by 1400 GMT, slightly outperforming a European drugs sector that was down 1 percent.
The British group has pinned particularly high hopes on its Tykerb pill for breast cancer, a rival to Roche Holding AG and Genentech Inc.'s injectable drug Herceptin.
Tykerb has produced promising results in studies showing it can help patients, including some of those whose breast cancer has spread to the brain.
But analysts believe it could take many years to reach blockbuster potential, with further trials on the value of combining Tykerb with Herceptin due later this year and other tests on its use as a first-line treatment due early next year.
Still, Saloui said early trends were good.
"Tykerb, actually, is off to a very good start in the U.S., with over 3,000 breast cancer patients treated since launch," he said.
Cervical Cancer Vaccine
Australia approved Cervarix, a vaccine to prevent a virus that causes cervical cancer, last month and Glaxo hopes to have it on sale in Europe later this year, though a U.S. launch is viewed by analysts as unlikely before 2008.
Pazopanib is an anti-angiogenesis drug similar to Genentech and Roche's Avastin, while HuMax-CD20 is an antibody drug licensed from Denmark's Genmab that is being tested for leukaemia and other blood cancers.
Genmab said separately that HuMax-CD20 possibly could be launched in 2008.
HuMax-CD20, or ofatumumab, works in a similar way to Genentech and Roche's Rituxan/MabThera, and Saloui said Glaxo planned a head-to-head comparative study of the two drugs.
Promacta and Rezonic are both supportive care medicines. Promacta helps boost blood platelet levels, while Rezonic is designed to reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
New Phase III trial data presented for the first time on Monday showed Rezonic given with Glaxo's older anti-nausea drug Zofran was significantly more effective than Zofran alone.
Glaxo is also working in the emerging field of therapeutic cancer vaccines, which are designed to boost the body's immune system rather than prevent an infection like conventional vaccines.
It plans to recruit the first patients into a late-stage Phase III trial of its MAGE-A3 shot for non-small-cell lung cancer in September. MAGE-A3 will compete with a similar product called Stimuvax from Merck KGaA, which entered Phase III testing in February.