Celgene edges higher on Abraxane melanoma study

SUMMIT, N.J. -- Shares of Celgene Corp. rose Tuesday after the company said its cancer drug Abraxane slowed the progression of melanoma in a late-stage clinical trial.

The trial compared Abraxane and dacarbazine in 529 patients with melanoma that had metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body. Celgene said patients who were treated with Abraxane had greater progression-free survival than patients who were treated with the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine. That means the Abraxane patients had more time from the start of treatment until death or new disease progression. The patients had not received chemotherapy before the study.

Celgene didn't provide specifics on the benefit but plans to present data from the study at a medical conference in November.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. The National Institutes of Health says that around 76,250 cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2012.

Shares of Celgene gained $1.37 to $78.15 in midday trading. Earlier the stock gained as much as 2.7 percent.

Abraxane is currently approved as a treatment for breast cancer. In the first six months of 2012 Celgene reported $214 million in total revenue from the drug, including $168 million in U.S. sales. The Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to make a decision on Abraxane as a treatment for lung cancer later this year, and Celgene will also report data from a study of the drug as a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Citi Investment Research analyst Yaron Werber said he had not expected the drug to succeed as a melanoma treatment. Werber said about 45,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with metastatic melanoma every year, and about half of them would be candidates for treatment with Abraxane. He wrote that six months of treatment with Abraxane would cost about $47,000 per patient, meaning the drug could bring Celgene $1.1 billion in annual revenue as a melanoma treatment in the U.S. alone.