Since Wall Street analysts and institutional investors got hold of important research abstracts last week from the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology conference, some of that information has trickled down to the general investing public.
reported extensively in
, ASCO tries to keep a clamp on leaks prior to its annual meeting, which takes place May 18-21 in Orlando, Fla. Research abstracts were supposed to be posted later today on the ASCO Web site, albeit for members only.
But what hasn't changed is the time-honored practice of sell-side analysts turning out ASCO-related research reports for their institutional clients. So, in the interest of fairness and Regulation FD, here's a preview of ASCO, based on analysts' research notes issued so far.
Some words of caution for investors looking to play the ASCO investing game: Remember that research abstracts are typically based on a preliminary analysis of clinical testing data. These abstracts have to be submitted to ASCO six months in advance, so a lot may have changed by the time final results are unveiled at the meeting.
: Just might be the belle of the ASCO ball. The company's experimental proteasome inhibitor, MLN-341, appears to be well on its way to becoming a very promising, new cancer drug.
MLN-341 is being developed initially as a treatment for patients with advanced cases of multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. One of Millennium's ASCO research abstracts describes results from 75 of 200 patients in a phase II test of the drug.
"A robust response was seen, with 18% of patients achieving an M protein response (a validated measure of clinical benefit in myeloma) of 90% and 14% of patients achieving an M protein response of
greater than 75% but less than 90%," according to Robertson Stephens biotech analyst Mike King.
King adds, "This preliminary data suggest a powerful response rate in a heavily pretreated patient population. We are encouraged by this and believe MLN-31 is well on its way to becoming a product and potentially an adjunctive drug of choice for the treatment of cancer." King rates Millennium strong buy, and his firm has a banking relationship with the company.
Millennium shares jumped 9% Thursday and Friday, after the ASCO abstracts leaked out. The company rose another 59 cents, or 2.7%, to $22.76 in trading Monday.
: There appear to be mixed reactions to new data regarding ABX-EGF, the companies' experimental cancer drug, which like
Erbitux, works by binding to a protein in cancer cells called the epidermal growth factor.
In a new, phase II test of ABX-EGF in renal cell cancer, two of 31 patients showed an objective response, while 58% showed a minor response or had their disease stabilized. The cancer in another 36% of patients progressed. These patients had already failed other drug treatments, according to results quoted in analyst reports from Robertson Stephens and U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray.
Renal cell cancer is a "notoriously difficult-to-treat cancer," writes Robbie Stephens' King, adding that the above-mentioned data compare favorably to rival drugs used to treat the disease. "In our opinion, this Phase II study was successful in confirming the biological activity of ABX-EGF and provides a basis for moving forward in additional cancers." King rates Abgenix strong buy, and his firm has a banking relationship with the company.
Piper Jaffray analyst Mark Augustine was a bit less sanguine, stating, "ABX-EGF appears to offer no real breakthrough in kidney cancer," although Augustine does acknowledge that renal cell cancer is very difficult to treat and that the drug could be developed successfully for other types of solid-tumor cancers. Augustine rates Immunex market perform, and his firm doesn't have a banking relationship with the company.
Shares of Abgenix were down 30 cents to $15.86 in Monday's trading, while shares of Immunex dropped 26 cents to $28.92.
: Debate still rages over just what to make of the preliminary data
released on its experimental cancer drug, Avastin, that suggested some concerns with the its safety. These results and some early analyst commentary were reported Thursday. Late Friday, other analysts chimed in.
"We believe the concerns about Genentech's cancer drug, Avastin, while real, have been overdone," writes Lehman Brothers analyst James Dougherty.
"We note that Genentech and the FDA have likely had these results for many months, and that the Phase III program has surely taken them into account. Additionally, if alarming side effects were prominent in Phase III, the
data safety monitoring board would have likely stopped the ongoing trials," he adds. Dougherty rates Genentech buy, and his firm doesn't have a banking relationship with the company.
Banc of American Securities analyst Eric Ende is taking a more cautious stance on Avastin, writing, "we believe that the development risk associated with Avastin has increased and the timing of launch has become increasingly uncertain. Despite our concerns, we believe that eventual approval is still likely and Avastin is still likely to be a blockbuster drug." Ende rates Genentech buy, and his firm doesn't have a banking relationship with the company.
Shares of Genentech lost more than 12% Thursday on initial fears about Avastin. The stock rebounded 3% Friday but finished Monday down 63 cents to $38.38.