CHICAGO -- The Wall Street gang attending the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting here will be crowding around a scientific poster this morning, craning their necks to see updated results from a small clinical trial combining Incyte's (INCY) - Get Report IDO inhibitor epacadostat with Merck's (MRK) - Get Report checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda in patients with non-small cell lung cancer.
The headline number: The overall response rate remains 35%, although two lung cancer patients now have improved to complete responses, another 12 patients have a partial response. The data are updated as of Feb. 27.
What did we already know? When we last saw these epacadostat-Keytruda combination lung cancer data on May 17 (when the ASCO abstract was made public) the overall response rate was also 35%, with 14 of 40 patients showing partial responses.
Here's a chart provided by Incyte and Merck breaking out the efficacy in more detail:
How good are these combination data in lung cancer? That's a hot debate topic. The number of patients treated is small and we don't have any randomized data to look at, but a 35% response rate for epacadostat-Keytruda in lung cancer appears to be better than the 14-20% response rate observed when Keytruda (or other checkpoint inhibitors) is used alone in similar patients. However, you can also find studies where the comparable response rates are similar suggesting that maybe, the epacadostat-Keytruda isn't much better, if at all.
But Incyte trades likes its IDO inhibitor is already a home run: Incyte's market cap is closing in on $27 billion, of which $10-15 billion is likely attributed to epacadostat, according to Loncar Investments CEO (and cancer immunotherapy wonk) Brad Loncar.
Let's just say, safely, that investors have high expectations for Incyte and epacadostat.
What's next? Incyte and Merck have already announced an ambitious co-development program that includes five phase III studies of the epacadostat-Keytruda combination in melanoma, bladder cancer, non-small-cell lung cancer, renal (kidney) cancer and head-and-neck cancer. Incyte is running a similar program with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) - Get Report and its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo.
Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.