Esperion – Seeing the glass half full

Esperion (ESPR) has been the target of a lot of criticism lately, demonstrated by the collapse from $115 to $24 in just 5 months. Investors became skeptical about Esperion’s ability to get FDA approval without cardiovascular outcomes data, which may push approval by 2-3 years and decrease probability of success. Even if the drug obtains FDA approval, many are worried about a narrow label that will limit initial commercial opportunity. Continue reading

ASCO 2015 preview

As in previous years, the upcoming ASCO meeting will be dominated by immuno-oncology with a particular focus on PD-1 antibodies. The market’s primary focus is expected to be on non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with data from three large randomized trials from BMS (BMY) and Roche. Beyond lung cancer, investors will look for additional indications where PD-1 agents may have clinical utility as monotherapy or in combination with other agents.

Overall, PD-1 programs continue to generate positive data across many indications but to date clinical experience has been sobering. PD-1 antibodies may lead to durable responses in some cases but the vast majority of patients derive limited benefit or don’t respond at all. This is true in most indications with the exception of melanoma where PD-1 antibodies have a dramatic impact and combination with Yervoy appears to lead to further improvement. Below is a recap of some of the data which will be presented over the weekend. Abstract numbers and links are also provided. Continue reading

2 prominent themes at ASCO 2014

As expected, the major theme this year was (again) Immuno-oncology with a focus on PD-1 antibodies. Another theme that is gaining momentum is segmentation of tumor types to small niches based on high resolution genomic profiling. This approach can be used to identify a drug’s target population already in phase I, as exemplified by multiple presentations I will discuss below. In most cases, these drugs are ineffective in the general population but highly effective in rare subsets of cancer patients. Continue reading

Drugs to watch at ASCO 2014

Below is my ASCO 2014 preview (better late than never…). I tried to make this recap as comprehensive as possible but it is practically impossible to cover all the interesting stuff (let me know if I missed anything dramatic). Unlike last year, I decided to group interesting abstracts based on mechanism of action rather than companies in order to provide a more holistic perspective. On top of attending the conference itself, I will try to attend as many analyst events as possible (this year I have Clovis, Roche, BMS and Incyte on my list) and include them in my post-ASCO write-up. Continue reading

Immuno-oncology – Key themes for 2014

A lot has been written about the immuno-oncology (cancer immunotherapy) field and how it is expected to revolutionize cancer treatment. In 2013, excitement around immuno-oncology and PD-1 antibodies in particular reached record high levels. In 2014, the trend is expected to continue on several fronts. These include potential approvals, new combination regimens, new indications and new targets.

Below is a review of key catalysts and drivers for immuno- oncology in 2014. Continue reading

Drugs to watch at ASCO 2013

Below is a recap of interesting data expected to be presented at the Annual meeting of The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).  This year’s meeting will have a strong focus on immunotherapy (PD-1 antibodies in particular) as well as novel oral agents for hematology. Companies for which important data are expected are reviewed as well.

PD-1 takes center stage

PD-1 antibodies are by far the hottest and most active field in cancer drug development. Although technically, all data to date were from phase I studies, there is wall to wall consensus that inhibitors of the PD-1 pathway will become a cornerstone in several cancer types and a $5-$10B franchise.

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Major trends in cancer drug development – Notes from TAT 2013

Earlier this month, I attended the TAT (Targeted anticancer therapies) congress in Paris. This conference focuses exclusively on targeted therapies for cancer, one of the most active areas in drug development. As a small conference (~500 participants), it does not generate a lot of high profile clinical data, still, it is a great opportunity to “feel the pulse” of oncology drug development. Speakers include clinical oncologists, basic scientists and industry researchers, which provide a fairly broad spectrum with respect to existing and upcoming trends.

Here, I focus on three major themes from the meeting: PD-1 inhibitors, antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) and cancer metabolism. Continue reading

Upcoming catalysts for Exelixis and Immunogen

Exelixis (EXEL) and Immunogen (IMGN) will have important phase III readouts in 2014. For Exelixis, the readout is from 2 phase III trials in prostate cancer and for Immunogen, a phase III trial in 1st line breast cancer. This raises the question – why should investors hold the stocks throughout 2012-2013? 

It is important to identify near term catalysts for biotech companies, but biotech stocks tend to be volatile and their movement is not always catalyzed by fundamental events. A good example for that is the recent surge in Pharmacyclics (PCYC) despite limited news flow. Unfortunately, we sold Pharmacyclics 6 months ago for a 413% profit, under the assumption that the company had no meaningful catalysts until 2014. Since then the stock is up more than 150%… 

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BMS zeroes in on its next blockbuster

Last week BMS (BMY) increased its stake in BMS-936558 (formerly MDX-1106) by regaining worldwide marketing rights for the drug except in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. This was the result of a deal with Ono Pharmaceutical, who originally held ex-US rights for the drug. In return, Ono received marketing rights for Orencia, a BMS drug  for Rheumatoid arthritis which is already in the market. BMS’ decision to exchange its stake in a product with real sales in return for a candidate in mid stage clinical development might seem odd at first glance, but a quick look at BMS-936558’s data is enough to understand the deal was a brilliant move.  

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Biotech Portfolio Updates – Immunogen, Array and Seattle Genetics

Immunogen becomes a $1B company

Immunogen (IMGN) concluded the week with a market cap of ~$1B, up 200% in less than a year. This valuation is quite unusual for a company that ascribes the vast majority of its value from a 3-5% royalty stake in a single drug – Roche’s T-DM1. T-DM1, which utilizes Immunogen’s antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology, comprises of Herceptin conjugated to a drug payload. It is in two phase III trials and multiple phase II studies in breast cancer. If proven effective, many believe T-DM1 will eventually replace Herceptin, at least in certain treatment lines.

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