Skin cancer drug news gives boost to BMS shares

Other oncology news also good for the company on leukemia front

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PRINCETON, N.J.—Weekend news was good for Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. as it announced results that its experimental drug ipilimumab extended survival in patients with melanoma. That news was good on Monday this week as well, as share shot up 8 percent in part on that news at one point, and finished up with around a 6 percent boost over Friday's closing price.

The drug, now in late-stage testing, amps up the immune system to attack the deadly cancer cells, and reportedly extends the lives of patietns with advanced melanoma by an average of almost four monthsg.

If that doesn't seem like much, it should be pointed out, as does the study's director, Dr. Steven O'Day, that "average survival [for metastatic melanoma] is six to nine months, on average, an additional four months is a very large difference for these patients."

Also, when you look at the percentages, that also make the numbers a bit more rosy, as it prolongs life and survival of these patients by 34 percent.

The information about the results of the Ipilimumab skin cancer drug was made public after the study results of a clinical trial conducted at the University of California. The treatment is administered intravenously. Ipilimumab is an antibody and is usually well tolerated.

This antibody belongs to a new class of drugs that activate T cells, a class of lymphocyte that plays a fundamental role in cellular immune response. The difference is that most of the skin cancer treatments that are known to date attack the cancer cell rather than acting on the immune system.

"In the last 30 years, different clinical trials had shown no improvement in survival of people living with advanced cancer are hard to cure," says O 'Day, who is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, who presented the results at the conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in early June in Chicago.

"Metastatic melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of cancer with no approved options for pre-treated patients," O'Day adds. "For the first time, a significant improvement in overall survival has been demonstrated in previously-treated advanced melanoma patients in a large, randomized Phase 3 study."

In other positive news from a late-stage cancer compound, which may also have contributed to BMS's share boost, BMS and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. announced—at the same meeting in Chicago—four-year follow-up results from a Phase 3 randomized, open-label, dose-optimization study of SPRYCEL (dasatinib) in chronic-phase chronic myeloid leukemia patients resistant or intolerant to Gleevec (imatinib mesylate). At four years, for all patients administered SPRYCEL 100 mg once daily, overall survival was 82 percent and progression-free survival was 66 percent.

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