Healthcare Business

BioHealth Watch: Cancer Wars (BMY, DNDN, VICL)

The fight against melanoma just got a new weapon after a drug called Yervoy, or ipilimumab, was given FDA approval for late-stage metastatic melanoma.  The approval is a win for Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (NYSE: BMY) as its monoclonal antibody gets to join the field of oncology drugs.

The monoclonal antibody may sound a bit like Provenge from Dendreon Corporation (NASDAQ: DNDN).  It uses the body’s immune system against tumors.  The average life in trials was extended to 10 months from about 6.4 months.  Provenge and its proposed circa-$90,000 regimen cost suddenly sounds cheap after its harsh criticism over drug costs.  Yervoy will cost close to $120,000 for a full regimen of four treatments in a three-month period.  

While the overall survival might not sound like a true life-saver just on the surface, about 20% of patients lived more than two years and some even longer. ipilimumab dates back to Medarex before it was acquired by Bristol-Myers. Bristol-Myers has another potential blockbuster drug on its hands and it actually has a dividend yield of close to 5% at this time. 

A portfolio manager sent something in this weekend that showed some additional interim data regarding Vical Inc. (NASDAQ: VICL). Additional data is due later this year and this portfolio manager has very high expectations for its A-7 study after the Provenge and Yervoy approvals were viewed as having knocked down the barriers to cancer approvals for oncology drugs ahead.

While we had to skim over much more than we would normally eliminate, the market is so far only treating this melanoma approval with a minimal impact.  Bristol-Myers shares are up 0.1% at $27.32.  Oddly enough, Dendreon is up 1.7% at $33.52 and Vical is up 1.6% at $2.54 so far this morning. 
 
JON C. OGG