ESMO18: Pfizer preps for Bristol-Myers Squibb showdown with Bavencio kidney cancer combination data

MUNICH—Pfizer has long been a player in kidney cancer, but it’s looking to take things up a notch—and challenge next-generation rival Bristol-Myers Squibb—with its latest data.

On Sunday at the European Society for Medical Oncology annual meeting, the New York drugmaker and partner Merck KGaA said their immuno-oncology agent Bavencio, in tandem with Pfizer’s Inlyta, had staved off cancer progression in previously untreated patients by a median 13.8 months, compared with 8.4 months for standard-of-care Sutent, another Pfizer drug.

And in patients whose tumors tested positive for the PD-L1 biomarker, the combo’s 13.8-month benefit nearly doubled the 7.2 months Sutent posted.

“We think that this could be a game-changer for patients” with kidney cancer, Pfizer Oncology Global President Andy Schmeltz said.


The catch is, Pfizer and Merck KGaA won’t just be going up against Sutent if their combo wins the FDA’s favor. They’ll have to take on Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo-Yervoy duo, which grabbed its first-line go-ahead this April.

But competition in kidney cancer is nothing new; Pfizer has had to go up against Bayer's Nexavar and Novartis' Afinitor, for two. “Even with Sutent, it was intensely competitive,” Schmeltz said, adding, “we’re bullish, and we’re not afraid.”

One reason? At the end of the day, data drives everything in oncology, he said—and Pfizer and Merck KGaA think theirs “stacks up strongly versus the competition.”

The team has another advantage, too, and that’s Pfizer’s longstanding relationships in kidney cancer. With Sutent having hit the market in 2006 and Inlyta in 2012, “we are entrenched in this segment. We know all the right folks; we know how the disease is treated in patients,” Schmeltz said.

Plus, “Clinicians already are comfortable using Inlyta, and so now it’s just with a checkpoint added on,” he said.

RELATED: Merck's Keytruda, ready to challenge Bristol-Myers Squibb, posts kidney cancer combination win

Pfizer and Merck KGaA could have another Inlyta combo close on their heels, though. Thursday, Merck & Co. unveiled positive top-line data from a Keytruda-Inlyta pairing ahead of schedule. Based on the timing, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat predicts the New Jersey drugmaker “could end up with a commercial TKI combo ~9-12 months earlier than expected.”