Was Onyx worth it? Amgen's case is looking up as Kyprolis bests Velcade in head-to-head trial

Interim results are in from Amgen's ($AMGN) head-to-head trial between its blood cancer drug Kyprolis and Takeda's Velcade, and things are looking good for the California biotech. Twice as good as they are for Takeda, in fact, when it comes to progression-free survival.

Patients with relapsed multiple myeloma who received Kyprolis and dexamethasone chemotherapy lived for a median 18.7 months without their disease worsening, Amgen said Sunday. The performance trounced that of Velcade, which staved off disease progression for a median 9.4 months, the study found.

The way ISI Group's Mark Schoenebaum sees it, the trial results could establish Kyprolis as the superior drug in the class, a distinction Amgen would welcome with open arms. After the company in 2013 shelled out almost $10 billion for the drug's maker, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, the drug netted just $331 million in sales last year--a performance that's raised a few eyebrows. Velcade's haul, in comparison, approached to $3 billion.

But Schoenebaum thinks all of that's about to change, now that the latest trial, dubbed ENDEAVOR, has delivered impressive interim data. Peak sales estimates--now at about $1.6 billion--may need to go up. And investor opinion on the Onyx deal is likely to improve, too, he wrote in a Monday note to clients.

Amgen itself is hoping that the ENDEAVOR results will take it even further than that. The data could boost its U.S. and EU applications for second-line Kyprolis use, for one. Further down the road, Amgen is eyeing a first-line indication--and that would open access to larger patient pools and lengthen the duration of therapy.

On that front, the ENDEAVOR interim data hint that Amgen's CLARION trial--which pits Kyprolis against Velcade in newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patients--will succeed, too, Schoenebaum notes.

And first-line use for Kyprolis is the ultimate goal, Onyx President Pablo Cagnoni has said. Demonstrating superiority over Velcade in ENDEAVOR "supports our goal of ensuring continued improvement of patient outcomes and potentially establishing Kyprolis as the backbone of therapy for patients with multiple myeloma," Cagnoni said in a statement.

- read Amgen's release

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