Bristol, Merck, AstraZeneca Bring New 'Checkpoint Inhibitor

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- "Immuno-oncology" will be the dominant buzz phrase at this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, just like last year. New classes of drugs designed to dismantle cloaking mechanisms used by cancer cells to hide from a patient's immune system are generating a tremendous amount of excitement in the cancer research community.

Investors are fixated on immuno-oncology drugs, too, with most of the attention being paid to the anti-PD1 and anti-PDL-1 "checkpoint inhibitors" under development by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), Merck (MRK) and Roche (RHHBY). This year marks the ASCO "debut" of AstraZeneca (AZN) to the checkpoint inhibitor race.

Research abstracts were released tonight previewing clinical data to be presented at the ASCO annual meeting, which kicks off on May 31. I've summarized the most relevant checkpoint inhibitor abstracts below. Remember, these results are preliminary. Expect updated data to be presented at the ASCO meeting.

Abstract No. 8023 discloses the first interim, phase I results from the combination of Bristol's experimental checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab with the already approved CTLA-A inhibitor Yervoy (ipilumumab) in patients with first-line non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC.)

Forty-six patients with squamous and non-squamous NSCLC were treated with four different dose regimens of nivo+Yervoy. The overall response rate (confirmed and unconfirmed) was 22%. The confirmed overall response rate was 13%. Another 33% of patients reported stable disease.

Grade 3-4 adverse events were reported in 48% of patients and led to treatment discontinuation in 16 patients. Three treatment-related deaths were reported due to respiratory failure, broncho-pulmonary bleeding and toxic epidermal necrolysis.

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