A New Era of Cancer Research as ASCO Kicks Off

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Just ahead of the 2017 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) in partnership with The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) has released a report indicating that more than 240 immuno-oncology medicines and vaccines are currently in development.

Stephen J. Ubl, president and chief executive officer of PhRMA, said:

Cancer continues to be one of the most complex and vexing diseases of our time and it will impact an estimated 1.6 million Americans who will be diagnosed this year. As our understanding of the root causes of cancer grows, we are expanding the types of treatments we are able to bring to patients. The idea of harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer is not new but recent breakthroughs are making it a reality, bringing hope to patients.

According to Chris Hansen, president of ACS CAN:

We are at a moment of tremendous opportunity when it comes to developing therapies that can address even the most vexing cancers we see today. To fully leverage our potential to reduce suffering and death from cancer, robust and sustained federal investment in basic research is critical to provide the necessary building blocks that together with privately-funded innovation lead to advances in immunotherapy and other targeted treatments.

New approvals in recent years represent significant advances, and biopharmaceutical research companies are committed to continuing to seek new cancer treatments and potential cures. The 2017 annual meeting of ASCO is set to run from June 2 to June 6 in Chicago. This conference has the potential to make or break companies, with winners walking away from this event with a nice gain and losers trying to pick up the pieces.

The following cancer-focused companies are among the many that will be presenting data, or that will have data presented on their behalf, at the ASCO conference.

BlueBird Bio Inc. (NASDAQ: BLUE) will be presenting updated data from its Phase 1 study of bb2121. Data contained in abstract 3010 were as of November 2016 and were previously reported at American Society of Hematology (ASH) in December, showing a 100% overall response rate. The update at ASCO will include six additional months of follow-up, giving important insight into treatment durability, as well as initial data from 10 additional patients. Shares of BlueBird were last trading at $75.35, with a consensus analyst price target of $98.17 and a 52-week trading range of $36.62 to $100.40.

Epizyme Inc. (NASDAQ: EPZM) is presenting updated data at ASCO from its Phase 2 trial of tazemetostat in INI-1 negative solid tumors. Recent activity appears promising and potentially supportive of accelerated approval, considering there is no established standard of care in the setting. Updated response rate data from the epithelioid sarcoma cohort is expected at ASCO. Epizyme closed most recently at $14.30, with a consensus price target of $24.38 and a 52-week range of $7.02 to $18.50.

Juno Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: JUNO) will report an update from its Transcend study of JCAR017. No additional details were reported in the abstract. However, analysts believe that a three-month complete remission rate of about 40% would represent a win, given Kite Pharma’s Zuma-1 data remained relatively unchanged at the 50 patient mark. Shares of Juno were last seen at $23.23. The 52-week range is $17.52 to $49.72, and the consensus price target is $30.50.

Kite Pharma Inc. (NASDAQ: KITE) is presenting an update from its Zuma-3 study, as well as additional data from the ZUMA-1 study. At last year’s ASH meeting, Kite reported data for eight evaluable patients in Zuma-3, with three achieving complete remission and three with complete remission with partial hematologic recovery. However, only four patients have ongoing responses, with the longest out to 5.4 months. Shares of Kite were trading at $72.32, with a consensus price target of $84.92 and a 52-week range of $39.82 to $88.58.

Merus B.V. (NASDAQ: MRUS) will report the full dataset from the Phase 1 study of HER2 x HER3 MCLA-128. In the abstract, data is reported for 15 patients with HER2 amplified tumors, including eight metastatic breast cancer, four gastric, two ovarian and one colorectal cancer patients. Analysts believe these data are promising, given the heavily pretreated nature of the patients, who had a median of 5.5 prior lines of therapy. Merus closed at $19.36, within a 52-week range of $7.26 to $33.63. The consensus price target is $31.23.

The rapid pace of scientific advances has helped usher in a new era of medicine for cancer patients over the past decade, according to PhRMA. Biopharmaceutical researchers’ understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms that initiate and control cancer cell growth have created promising new avenues for treatment advances. Research into the role of the body’s immune system in fighting cancer has yielded some of the most exciting new advances, resulting in a new wave of immunotherapies specifically targeting cancers, and these companies may be at the forefront.