Genentech Pops on Avastin - TheStreet

Updated from March 14

Shares of



continued to climb early Tuesday, thanks to a group of positive broker moves, following news Monday that interim analysis of clinical trial data shows that the colon cancer drug Avastin also helps certain lung cancer patients.

Genentech said an early review of a late-stage clinical trial showed that patients taking Avastin plus two standard treatments for lung cancer had an improved overall survival rate -- or a reduced the death rate -- compared with patients solely receiving chemotherapy.

Shares rose $2.59, or 4.7%, to $57.59 in the premnarket, having gained almost 25% Monday.

CSFB, Piper, Jefferies and Morgan Stanley all acted early Tuesday by raising their share price targets and/or earnings estimates or by upgrading the stock. CSFB, for instance, raised its price target to $100.

The National Cancer Institute, which sponsored the trial, said Monday that Avastin patients had a median survival rate of 12.5 months compared with 10.2 months for the chemotherapy-only patients. The difference is statistically significant.

The results are "exciting" because this is the first time there was "an improvement in survival with the addition of a targeted agent to standard chemotherapy in this patient population," said Dr. Alan B. Sandler, of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., who is chairman of the study.

Genentech's stock soared late in the trading day after the company and its partner, the Swiss drug giant


, revealed the results.

This phase III clinical trial is examining Avastin's power as a first-line therapy in non-squamous, non-small-cell lung cancer. Phase III is the third and final step of clinical testing before a company submits a drug to health care regulators for review.

Non-small-cell lung cancer is the leading killer among cancers in the U.S., accounting for 30% of cancer deaths and 80% of all types of lung cancer, says NCI.

Dr. Hal Barron, Genentech's chief medical officer, said the results of the study would be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration to support an application of Avastin plus chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for this type of lung cancer.

The NCI trial was conducted by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, a network of researchers. The researchers plan to present the data in mid-May at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the top cancer research conference in the U.S.

The clinical trial examined 878 patients with previously untreated advanced lung cancer. Patients were enrolled between July 2001 and April 2004.

The most significant problem in the test was "life-threatening or fatal bleeding, primarily from the lungs," NCI said. "This occurred infrequently but was more common" in the group that received Avastin. More details on the side effects will be presented at the medical conference in May.

Avastin was approved 13 months ago by the FDA as a first-line treatment, in combination with chemotherapy, for colorectal cancer that had spread to other parts of the body.

The drug acts to inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, a protein that plays a role in tumor growth. By thwarting VEGF, Avastin acts to choke off the blood supply to tumors, which need blood to grow and spread.

Avastin also is being tested in kidney, breast and ovarian cancers.