Selling Hope: The Cost Of Curing Cancer

The American Society of Clinical Oncology is underway in Chicago and the high profile, annual cancer conference is producing its usual combination of scientific and financial excitement.

As cancer experts meet each year to discuss the latest research in treatment of the disease, Wall Street analysts, investors and the financial news media alike pay close attention to what may make or break a stock, never mind a whole company, given the vast amount of money and time spent on R&D.

Here's a round up of the movers and shakers at the ASCO conference Monday.

Onyx Pharmaceuticals may be the big story this year, having reported positive results in the treatment of liver cancer, a relatively rare but particularly brutal form of the disease. Genentech -- often a headline generator at the event -- remained optimistic about the future of Avastin despite a study that found smaller doses of the drug were just as effective as larger doses. Celgene said most patients responded positively to Revlimid, a drug used to treat multiple myeloma. ImClone Systems said Erbitux slowed the development of colon cancer.

Onyx Pharmaceuticals

Onyx Pharmaceuticals said results of a Phase III study showed that Nexavar extended by 44% overall survival in patients with liver cancer.

Hollings Renton, Onyx’s chief executive officer, told CNBC’s Mike Huckman that the finding is a “breakthrough.”

The study compared survival in 602 patients suffering from primary liver cancer who received Nexavar versus those who took a placebo. The median overall survival was 10.7 months in patients who received Nexavar compared with 7.9 months for those who received a placebo.


Meanwhile, Susan Desmond-Hellman, Genentech’s president of product development, said she remains confident about Avastin’s future despite a new study that concluded a lower dose of the drug works as well as a higher dose in treating advanced lung cancer.

“We now have two positive Phase III trials – very important in this tough-to-treat disease,” she said.

Desmond-Hellman said she wasn't worried about the threat Tykerb, a treatment for breast cancer developed by GlaxoSmithKlein, posed to Genentech's drug in the field, Herceptin.


Researchers found that 96% of multiple myeloma patients treated with Celgene’s drug, Revlimid, are alive after one year. The drug now will be tested on non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a market that could boost sales by as much as $1 billion a year.

“We’re very excited about this landmark study,” Sol Barer, Celgene’s founder and chief executive officer, told CNBC. “Historically, it’s the highest survival rate for one year with patients with newly diagnosed multiple myeloma.”

He said the company is assembly the data and plans to meet with the Food and Drug Administration.

ImClone Systems

ImClone Systems’ colon cancer drug Erbitux slowed progression of the disease by a month when added to a standard chemotherapy cocktail. It is currently approved to treat the disease only after other treatment options have filed. The finding could broaden use of the drug, analysts say.

“(The results) show a survival increase of about 30% over chemotherapy alone without augmentation of toxicity,” Eric Rowinsky, Imclone’s chief medical officer, told CNBC.

Worldwide, colon cancer kills about 655,000 people a year.