5 stocks to watch as cancer drug meeting opens

Research coming out of the annual event is watched closely by Wall Street.

By Minyanville Jun 1, 2012 3:52PM
Image: Prescription medicine expenses © Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty ImagesASCO, the biggest medical meeting of the year for cancer research and a critical event for drug developers, gets underway Friday. The American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago runs through June 5, and the research coming out of it is being watched as closely by Wall Street as it is by doctors.

A company with disappointing study results will most likely see its stock drop. But ASCO watchers also know that companies sometimes have such big run-ups in their share prices before the conference that some investors sell the stock even on positive news. Either way, expect share movement next week after company presentations.

There will be many stories out of the conference this year. Here's a snapshot of five companies (and some of their rivals) presenting closely watched data at ASCO.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) will present highly anticipated research related to its prostate cancer drug Zytiga. The company is testing the drug in men who have yet to receive chemotherapy. In March, the company said a study of Zytiga given to patients with a steroid worked so well in men with early-stage prostate cancer that the trial was stopped early. However, there’s a question about whether the drug helps men live longer.

Company officials said at the time the drug showed a "strong trend for overall survival" in the study but that survival benefit wasn’t statistically significant. Zytiga was approved last year for men with advanced prostate cancer who have received chemo. Results of J&J’s updated research at ASCO have a bearing on Medivation (MDVN), which is developing a similar drug, and Dendreon (DNDN), maker of the Provenge cancer vaccine.   

Investors focused on Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX) care most about the drug carfilzomib (the proposed brand name is Kyprolis) for multiple myeloma. The merits of approving the treatment will be discussed at a panel of expert advisers to the Food and Drug Administration June 20. The FDA is expected to make a decision on its market approval by late July. Onyx touts its drug as more effective than current therapies and says it has fewer side effects. It’s in a race with Revlimid maker Celgene (CELG), which is developing its own next-generation treatment for the blood cancer.

Ariad Pharmaceuticals (ARIA) is testing ponatinib for two types of leukemia and expects to file for U.S. market approval of the drug in the third quarter. The company aims to help treat patients who are resistant to existing therapies Tasigna by Novartis (NVS) and Sprycel by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY). Shares of Ariad are up by more than a third this year, trading at $15.75 Friday afternoon.

There's a great deal of interest in Array BioPharma’s (ARRY) experimental lung cancer drug, selumetinib. Array’s stock jumped earlier this month after a scientific abstract submitted to ASCO showed the therapy helped patients live longer. Updated study data will be presented at the conference. The drug is licensed to AstraZeneca (AZN). Shares of Array are up more than 50% this year, trading at $3.42 Friday.

Aveo Pharmaceuticals (AVEO) said earlier this year that its treatment tivozanib for advanced kidney cancer worked better than Onyx’s already-approved drug Nexavar. Aveo is expected to apply for US approval of its medicine in the third quarter. Even though it showed better results than Nexavar, investors expected Aveo’s treatment would beat the Onyx product more handily. (See Cancer Drug Developer Aveo Shares Sink as Study Data Falls Short of Investor Hopes.)  Shares of Aveo are down 26% this year, trading at $12.48 Friday.

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