Skip to main content

The annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, one of the most closely followed medical meetings of the year, features a little less suspense this year, but a lot of information.

The ASH confab, held this year in Philadelphia, runs Dec. 6-10. Researchers at the meeting will have some new stuff to dive into as well as a vast array of follow-on studies. What follows is a quick preview of some of the key things to look for:

Millennium Pharmaceuticals : One of the few companies that will have entirely new data to present. In this case, it's the final results from a phase II study of the experimental drug Velcade in patients with advanced multiple myeloma. Positive results from the first 78 patients in this study were reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting last May. At ASH, Millennium will report results from the remaining 124 patients in the study. (And yes, the expectations are for positive results that will confirm the findings from ASCO.)

AstraZeneca : The drug maker's experimental blood-thinning drug, Exanta, doesn't get much attention these days, especially with most of the talk focused on generic competition to Prilosec, the prospects for the cancer drug Iressa, and the timing of the Crestor cholesterol drug launch. Exanta will be on full display at this year's ASH, with a host of study results that will help doctors and investors size up the drug's potential against current anticoagulants like Aventis' Lovenox.

TheStreet Recommends

Genentech and Idec Pharmaceuticals : What would a gathering of the ASH tribe be without a lot of talk about Rituxan? After all, it is arguably the most successful biotech-derived blood cancer drug ever created. There are close to 200 Rituxan abstracts submitted this year, but most of the preconference talk has been about data that won't be presented. A highly anticipated U.S.-based study examining Rituxan used in combination with chemotherapy in patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is not ready for prime time, according to the companies. This study is important for two reasons: First, it will serve as the second bookend to a similar, completed study in Europe. (That study, positive, has already helped boost Rituxan sales.) Second, the U.S. study has a two-year maintenance arm designed to determine whether long-term use of Rituxan can keep patients in remission, and therefore, help them live longer.There will be a smaller Rituxan maintenance therapy study presented at the conference, as well as studies looking at Rituxan's ability to treat patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, another form of blood cancer.

Idec Pharmaceuticals: The recent launch of its other cancer drug, Zevalin, is either on track or slower than expected, depending on which sell-side analyst's opinion you subscribe to. This year's ASH conference won't shed much new light on the drug, although Idec likely will use the gathering to get doctors more comfortable with Zevalin's use.Since Zevalin uses radiation to kill cancerous cells, there have been some safety concerns raised about treating patients with the drug a second time, if necessary. At ASH, there is a very small pilot study that tackles this issue, which appears to show encouraging results.

Genta : Investors anxious to see whether Genta's antisense compound, Genasense, is the real deal or just science fiction will have to wait for another medical meeting. Data from two, phase III clinical trials were supposed to be ready for this year's ASH, but Genta resized the trials and pushed back their timelines well into next year. (A topic well covered by's big theory behind Genasense is that it sensitizes cancer cells to the killing power of chemotherapy, so the drug will always be used in combination with others. Nevertheless, it's important, at least for confidence purposes, to show that a drug can act on its own too, even just a little. With that said, Genta will be presenting the results of a phase II study testing Genasense as a stand-alone treatment in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Corixa : The biotech firm will use ASH to highlight some long-term follow up data on Bexxar, its experimental drug to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients. The biggest upcoming Bexxar event will be the Dec. 17 meeting of an FDA advisory panel to review the drug's efficacy and safety. Bexxar, if approved, will compete directly with Idec's Zevalin.

Ilex Oncology : Multiple studies of two drugs will be on tap at ASH this year. There will be studies presented looking at the use of Campath in bone marrow transplantation. (Campath is currently approved for use in chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients.) Ilex will also be presented data on its experimental cancer drug clofarabine, which is being developed as a treatment for various forms of leukemia.