ESMO: Merck dominates; BMS hangs tough; Roche flexes; plus Pfizer, Novartis, Tesaro and more

Some of the year’s most-anticipated data on cancer drugs made its debut this weekend at the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress in Copenhagen, and no batch of data was more closely watched than the latest in lung cancer.

Merck & Co.’s PD-1 immunotherapy Keytruda showed its hand in previously untreated patients, and it was full of aces. In a result Merck called “really quite spectacular,” it slashed the risk of disease progression in half and cut the risk of death by 40%, compared with standard chemo.

Bristol-Myers Squibb, on the other hand, unveiled its failed first-line trial, which pitted its PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo against chemo, without digging up any good news. The company is ready to move on with follow-up Opdivo research, including combo approaches with its other immunotherapy, Yervoy.

Roche’s Tecentriq, a third-to-market rival to Keytruda and Opdivo, put up non-small cell lung cancer data, too--in this case, in previously treated patients, where Keytruda and Opdivo are already approved. Tecentriq helped patents live longer, with a 13.8 month median survival figure that the company called “essentially unprecedented.”

Outside of lung cancer? Tesaro’s PARP inhibitor niraparib scored big-time, with progression-free survival benefits larger than have ever been seen in recurrent ovarian cancer, stoking hopes for the PARP med Pfizer is acquiring in its $14 billion deal for Medivation.

Novartis’ breast cancer med ribociclib, a would-be competitor to Pfizer’s blockbuster-in-the-making Ibrance, racked up data that showed it cut the risk of progression or death by 44%--results that matched up favorably with its future rival, analysts said.

Bristol touted quality-of-life results for head and neck cancer patients treated with Opdivo, which is awaiting an FDA nod in that form of the disease.

Merck rolled out early bladder cancer data on Keytruda, with a 24% response rate in the first 100 of 374 patients in a Phase II trial, 6% of them complete responders.

Bayer racked up data for Stivarga in liver cancer, and it’s hoping it can use its blockbuster Nexavar and the newer med as a one-two punch against the tough disease.

And Pfizer laid out long-term data on its kidney cancer med Sutent, tested in patients who've had their cancers surgically removed. Sutent patients lived disease-free more than one year longer than placebo patients, a result Pfizer called "paradigm-changing," and fodder for a new indication for the aging med.