Novartis, Seattle Genetics, Celgene Reveal Latest News on Blood Disease Drugs

Novartis, Seattle Genetics, Celgene Reveal Latest News on Blood Disease Drugs
Novartis, Seattle Genetics, Celgene Reveal Latest News on Blood Disease Drugs

The 52nd annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, which began Saturday and will wrap up Tuesday, is a place for researchers to present data from their studies on blood diseases from hemophilia to blood cancers such as lymphoma. Among the presenters were Novartis, Celgene and Seattle Genetics.

Swiss drugmaker Novartis (NVS) said in a statement early Monday that data from a mid-stage trial showed its experimental blood cancer drug LBH589, or panobinostat, reduced tumors (74%) and substantially controlled the disease (82%) in Hodgkin lymphoma patients who had already been extensively treated but relapsed. Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that starts with a change to the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells. Novartis plans to file the drug for worldwide regulatory approval.

Novartis also released 24-month data from a late-stage trial showing its blood cancer drug Tasigna was better at slowing down disease progression than its own older drug, Gleevec, in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia. CML is a slowly progressing cancer in which too many white blood cells (not lymphocytes) are made in the bone marrow. Gleevec, Novartis's best-selling cancer medicine, which generated sales of over $1 billion in the third quarter, is set to lose patent protection as early as 2015.

Seattle Genetics (SGEN) and Takeda Pharmaceutical also reported data from a Phase II trial of relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma patients. The experimental drug, SGN-35, or brentuximab vedotin, actually wiped out tumors in 34% of patients and reduced tumors in 40% of them for a median of 29 weeks. Overall, 94% of 102 patients had their tumors shrink by at least a quarter.

The combination drug is comprised of a delivery system -- an anti-CD30 monoclonal antibody -- and a potent, synthetic anticancer drug. When the antibody recognizes tumor cells (through the CD30 protein found on them) it delivers the drug. This method not only spares healthy cells and minimizes potential toxic side effects, but may enhance antitumor activity.

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Seattle Genetics plans to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of the medicine in the first quarter of 2011, and the drug may be approved late next year. Seattle Genetic shares fell over 5% despite the positive data as initial results already pushed shares up and because of the small market opportunity.

Another big mover today was Celgene (CELG), whose shares tanked over 9% after the company revealed data showing that its blockbuster multiple myeloma drug Revlimid may actually increase the risk of a secondary cancer when given as maintenance therapy (15 case of secondary malignancies in patients given Revlimind, vs. six in patients given placebos, according to Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that begins in plasma cells.

While the data show that giving Revlimid as a maintenance therapy indeed improves progression-free-survival, and while the increased numbers for secondary malignancy are not statistically significant, investors were still concerned about the prospects of Revlimid, and for Celgene's ability to further expand its sales, which are expected to reach $2.45 billion in 2010.