ASCO soundbites: Weekend insights from some of pharma's finest oncology wordsmiths

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting wrapped up Tuesday in Chicago.

Over the last few days, we’ve delivered plenty of data and analysis from last weekend’s ASCO meeting (see here, here and here if you missed it). Today, though, we’re bringing you something different: the choicest quotes we collected from interviews over the weekend. Read on for thoughts from pharma execs bestowed with the gift of gab.

  • How did Roche’s Tecentriq manage to come up short on the overall survival front in a phase 3 study evaluating the med in second-line bladder cancer? A surprisingly good performance from vinflunine, a chemo med that represents the standard of care in Europe, according to Roche global head of clinical development in hematology and oncology Dietmar Berger. “If you look at the study, the Tecentriq arm performed exactly as it did” in phase 2, he said, and it was also “very much in line with many of the data that we see from other checkpoint inhibitors.” Another two chemotherapies represented in the study, paclitaxel and docetaxel, performed as expected, too. But “what did not perform as expected was the finvlunine arm,” and “that led to a situation where we just barely did not meet the primary endpoint ... we certainly have to learn from that trial,” Berger said.
  • Meanwhile, one rival does have data showing a survival benefit in the second-line setting, and that’s Merck’s Keytruda. “I’m not the commercial guy—I can’t tell you what the commercial performance will look like. But I can tell you as a practicing oncologist, if I have the choice of a drug that had established a survival benefit and a group of drugs that hadn’t, I would probably go with that which had a survival benefit,” Roy Baynes, Merck’s head of global clinical development, said in an interview.
  • Elsewhere on the immuno-oncology scene, AstraZeneca isn’t as interested as its peers in partnering with other companies on combo trials. “Our main priority is really to help make sure we can understand how we can combine across the pipeline that we have,” Michelle Werner, the company’s head of U.S. oncology, said in an interview. “... The great thing about having as robust of a pipeline as we have is that we have the opportunity to really do many of those combinations ourselves.”
  • And while Bristol-Myers Squibb may not have impressed investors with its two-year survival data in first-line lung cancer for the Opdivo-Yervoy duo, the pairing is a “very rational” combination with quite a bit of potential, company oncology development head Fouad Namouni said in an interview. “It doubles the response rate in a variety of tumor types—you name it. You’re talking about mesothelioma, small-cell lung cancer—22% response rate. You look at it in gastric cancer, you look at it in bladder cancer, in lung cancer—I can name 10 tumors and the response rate is each time increasing,” he said.
  • Outside of immuno-oncology, plenty of interest is swirling around PARP—especially with last week’s rumors that Tesaro could put itself up for sale. Rival Clovis Oncology, though, isn’t interested in doing the same, though—at least for now. CEO Patrick Mahaffy said in an interview that he thinks about M&A “so much less than everybody else does, apparently.” Instead, he said, he thinks a lot about the patients his company is treating and the development of Clovis’ pipeline and portfolio. “I’m either much more focused or somewhat boring, but that’s how I spend my time,” he said.
  • And Takeda, which recently launched ALK lung cancer med Alunbrig while working to fold in recent buy Ariad, doesn’t recommend double-timing the two. “I’ve done integrations, I’ve done launches, and I don’t think I ever want to do two at the same time again,” oncology commercial leader Ryan Cohlhepp said in an interview. “It definitely adds more stress to the system.”