* Opdivo combo meets main goal of late-stage cancer study
* Bristol-Myers' shares up in premarket trade, rivals down
* Fourth-quarter profit tops estimates on demand for Opdivo (Adds details on trial, comment from CEO of Loncar Investments; updates shares)
Feb 5 (Reuters) - Bristol-Myers Squibb Co said its immunotherapy Opdivo helped patients with a common type of lung cancer live longer without the disease worsening in an eagerly awaited late-stage study, sending shares up 3 percent in premarket trade on Monday.
The company, which also reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings, said the trial was testing Opdivo in combination with its own drug Yervoy in patients with first-line non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Opdivo is going head to head with rival drugs from Merck & Co, Roche and Astrazeneca in the multibillion-dollar cancer immunotherapy market. Shares in all three companies were marginally down.
"It was hugely important that this trial succeed in some way for Bristol because first-line advanced lung cancer is such an important commercial opportunity," said Brad Loncar, chief executive of Loncar Investments, which runs the Loncar Cancer Immunotherapy ETF.
"It is a much-needed win for their company and also perhaps a win for the science in general."
The NSCLC patients being tested in the trial had high tumor mutation burden, "an important biomarker for the activity of immunotherapy," Bristol-Myers said.
In the past, companies had been classifying patients on the terms of expression of a protein called PD-L1, but that had mixed success, according to Loncar.
An independent committee recommended that the study continue, based on an interim analysis for another main goal - overall survival, or helping patients survive longer while on the treatment, Bristol-Myers added.
Fourth-quarter net loss attributable was $2.33 billion compared with a year-ago profit of $894 million, as the drugmaker took a $2.9 billion charge.
Excluding one-time items, the company said it earned 68 cents per share in the quarter ended Dec. 31, analysts were expecting 67 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Sales of Opdivo came in at $1.36 billion, above the consensus estimate of $1.29 billion.
Blood thinner Eliquis' sales rose nearly 44 percent to $1.36 billion.
The company forecast 2018 adjusted earnings per share of $3.15-$3.30. Analysts had expected $3.23 per share. (Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New York; Editing by Martina D'Couto)