ESMO: The latest skinny on drugs from Pfizer, Novartis, GSK, Merck, BMS

The European Society for Medical Oncology meeting may not be as enormous as its U.S. counterpart, but plenty of news is flowing. And some of the new data presented in Madrid over the weekend is pretty dramatic. For instance, check out the results for Perjeta, which helped patients live far longer with metastatic breast cancer. Here are some other highlights.

  • Novartis ($NVS) trumpeted data on its lung cancer drug Zykadia, the ALK-inhibitor rival to Pfizer's ($PFE) Xalkori. The Novartis drug staved off cancer growth for an average of 18 months when used as a first ALK therapy, and 9 months on average in all patients, regardless of prior treatment. The drug also showed activity in the brain, suggesting that it might help treat brain metastases, the company said. Release

  • GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) melanoma-fighting duo Tafinlar and Mekinist helped stave off cancer growth by 11.4 months, compared with 7.3 months in patients using Roche's ($RHHBY) Zelboraf, a head-to-head study found. The already approved pair may find itself competing against a Zelboraf combo, which cut the risk of cancer progression by one-half when compared with Zelboraf alone in another ESMO study. The Zelboraf partner, cobimetinib, is awaiting approval in Europe. Release | Report

  • When used on its own, GSK's Tafinlar may help patients live longer, with 45% of people treated with the drug alive two years afterward, compared with 32% of patients who started out on another drug. Final overall survival numbers won't be available until 2016; the drug was approved based on the study's primary endpoint, progression-free survival. Release

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) said 32% of melanoma patients previously treated with its targeted drug Yervoy responded to Opdivo (nivolumab), its new immunotherapy, compared with 11% in patients treated with chemo as a Yervoy follow-up. Release

  • Merck ($MRK) said its newly approved immunotherapy Keytruda delivered a 24% response rate in patients with bladder cancer, when used as a standalone treatment. Ten percent of patients saw complete response, the company said. Keytruda was approved earlier this month to treat melanoma, but the hope is that it can prove effective in a variety of other cancers. Release

  • Pfizer's ALK-positive lung cancer drug Xalkori may have a new target. The drug stopped growth of lung tumors driven by rearrangements in the ROS-1 gene, a New England Journal of Medicine study showed. Xalkori treatment led to "significant tumor shrinkage" in 36 of 50 study participants. Lead Author Alice Shaw of Massachusetts General said the data confirms ROS1 as a "bona fide therapeutic target" in patients with that type of tumor, an even more rare variety of lung cancer than the ALK-positive disease Xalkori is approved to treat. Release | Report

  • Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) prostate cancer therapy Zytiga, used along with prednisone, helped patients live longer compared with prednisone plus a placebo. Both groups of patients had never been treated with chemotherapy. The Zytiga patients had a median overall survival of 34.7 months, compared with 30.3 months in the control group. The analysis was a final look at the study J&J used to win FDA approval of pre-chemo use of Zytiga. Release

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