Bristol-Myers' Opdivo nets the first PhIII gastric cancer win for checkpoint inhibitors

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo may have recently struck out as a monotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer patients. But it’s hardly lacking for ways to expand, and it proved that Thursday in a Phase III gastric cancer trial.

Among chemo-intolerant patients or those who failed to respond to chemo, the checkpoint inhibitor topped placebo at extending overall survival, the company said. BMS’ partner, Japan’s Ono Pharmaceutical, conducted the trial in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

It’s a win for Opdivo, which is the first drug in its class to show a survival benefit in stomach cancer patients. If it can eventually snag an indication there--and beat its immuno-oncology rivals, Merck’s Keytruda and Roche’s Tecentriq, to the therapy area--it’ll have a wide-open shot at a sizable market; gastric cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the world, killing more than 720,000 patients each year.

And Opdivo, which until recently was considered the favorite in the immuno-oncology race, could use a boost after an unexpected flop in first-line lung cancer. The med failed to top chemo at extending progression-free survival--and to make the slip-up even tougher for Bristol-Myers, Keytruda shined in that setting and last month scored an FDA go-ahead.

While lung cancer is the most lucrative market for the class, though, there’s still plenty of room for the drugs to grow. Bristol-Myers is currently vying for a bladder cancer nod, and if it gets one, it’ll have a shot at giving Tecentriq a run for its money.