All the ASCO skinny: Lynparza's pancreatic win, Amgen's KRAS spotlight, Merck's history-busting and more

This year's ASCO meeting in Chicago may have boasted fewer big-news stories. But we found plenty worth highlighting, including several truly buzz-worthy stories. (Pixabay)

The cancer world flocked to Chicago over the weekend for what's traditionally been the biggest oncology meet-up of the year. But this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology line-up didn't exactly thrill analysts—or some attendees, either, as some of our executive interviews showed.

Sure, fewer headliner studies had people talking. But we found plenty of data and analyses worth highlighting, including several truly buzz-worthy bits from AstraZeneca, Amgen, Merck, Seattle Genetics and more. And keep on reading for some of the studies you probably won't see elsewhere.

AstraZeneca and Merck’s Lynparza is on a roll when it comes to making headlines at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting—and doing it in some of the toughest-to-treat cancers out there. And this time, it was some upbeat stats in pancreatic cancer, one of the toughest of all.

Merck's Keytruda thumbed its nose at metastatic lung cancer's survival stats with some long-term follow-up data: Of previously untreated non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients taking Keytruda, 23.2% were still alive at the five-year mark. And before the dawn of immunotherapy, long-term survival was almost a foreign concept in the metastatic lung cancer arena.

On the flip side, Merck's I-O star detailed some not-so-positive results, too. In previously untreated patients with PD-L1-positive, advanced stomach cancer, adding Keytruda to chemo failed to beat chemo alone, either at extending patients’ lives or keeping cancer at bay. And that held true even in patients with high PD-L1 levels.

Amgen put up some closely watched data, and from an early-stage trial to boot. The California biotech delivered the first clinical data from a KRAS inhibitor, a feat 30 years in the making. In a small phase 1 study, Amgen’s AMG 510 stopped tumor growth in the majority of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and colorectal cancer. Analysts have been waiting for the results, since Amgen teased them earlier this month.

Novartis’ Kisqali has been living in the shadow of classmate Ibrance, but with its latest data set, Kisqali has gained one advantage. In a phase 3 trial of certain premenopausal women with HR-positive, HER-2 negative breast cancer, combining Kisqali with hormone therapy cut the risk of death by 29% compared with endocrine therapy alone. And at the 42-month mark, 70.2% of Kisqali patients were still alive, compared with 46% of those in the placebo group.

Astellas and Seattle Genetics unveiled data showing their candidate, enfortumab vedotin, shrank 44% of tumors and eliminated 12% of them in patients with advanced urothelial cancer, which typically crops up in the bladder. The treatment could become an option for patients whose cancer has worsened despite chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and Astellas’ Xtandi is gunning for a new indication in prostate cancer, and they say Sunday's new data complement the supporting evidence they’ve already generated.  An investigator-sponsored study in metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer (mHSPC) showed Xtandi slashed the risk of death by 33% compared with other non-steroidal androgen-fighting meds.

Blueprint Medicines’ RET inhibitor stepped closer to the market with data showing it shrank tumors in 60% of a difficult-to-treat group of lung cancer patients. The study delivered a "dramatically better" response than current treatments show, a Blueprint exec said in an interview. And it tees up the candidate for a 2020 filing in patients with RET-altered NSCLC who already tried chemotherapy.

Sanofi’s anti-CD38 antibody isatuximab totted up a win in relapsed multiple myeloma. Added to the standard of care, the candidate extended patients’ lives and delivered a response rate nearly double the standard of care alone. The isatuximab combination shrank tumors in 60% of patients compared to 35% of patients taking the standard of care alone. 

Gilead Sciences has zeroed in on cell therapy, hoping to lead a wave into that new market. And Monday, the company touted new info on its approved Yescarta and early data on pipeline up-and-comers. On the Yescarta side, one ASCO analysis of its Zuma-1 study delved into how Yescarta works in the older-65 segment of large B-cell lymphoma patients—and the answer is, better than in younger folks.

J&J's Erleada may be its follow-up to blockbuster Zytiga, but some new data shows it's ready to go where its predecessor hasn’t. Results rolled out Friday showed adding Erleada to androgen deprivation therapy cut the risk of death by a third, compared with a placebo-ADT combo in men with metastatic castration-sensitive prostate cancer (mCSPC).

J&J also chalked up backing for its new Darzalex formulation. The subcutaneous version showed it could stand up to the original infusion—in fact, it posted a slight edge on the older therapy in both efficacy and safety. And that might help drum up new sales, because patients could take a five-minute injection instead of an infusion that would take up to eight hours.

Nektar Therapeutics rolled out a data boost for its NKTR-214-Opdivo cocktail in first-line melanoma. The data feature four more complete responses, bringing the rate up 10 percentage points to 34%. And that makes this year's ASCO a better experience for the company after last year's data underwhelmed.

Grail put up early liquid biopsy data showing its test was not only able to detect the 12 different kinds of early-stage cancers but could also identify the disease’s location within the body before it spreads using signatures found in the bloodstream. The former Fierce 15 winner presented the returns from a sub-study of its Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas (CCGA) project.

Israeli biotech Ayala Pharmaceuticals reported preclinical results that suggest how it might spend the $30 million in new VC funding it recently scored. Namely, clinical testing of its lead drug AL101 in triple-negative breast cancer. A former Bristol-Myers Squibb candidate, AL101 is designed for tumors with Notch-activated mutations, and in patient-derived xenograft mouse models, the drug showed a response correlated with Notch-related mutations.

Turning Point Therepeutics' update on repotrectinib has been overshadowed by a sudden, possibly drug-related death. In a non-small cell lung cancer trial, more than four-fifths of patients responded to Turning Point's tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) but shares in Turning Point fell 10% amid worries about the death.

Editor's note: The original version of this story misnamed a Gilead Sciences clinical trial. The correct name is Zuma-1.