Novartis comes out on top at ASCO

If we had to characterize the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, we'd call it target practice. The big cancer conference turned out lots of big news about drugs, but an overriding theme seemed to be focusing treatment onto the patients most likely to benefit--and using only as much treatment as patients really need. Whether that means identifying genetic mutations or tumor types or other markers before treatment, the end result is likely to be that some patients get exactly the drugs they need. (Others, though, may be out of luck until new-and-improved meds come online.) Will this make it more likely that reluctant payers will pony up for super-expensive but highly targeted treatments? Could be. In any case, here's a roundup of other ASCO info.

  • Novartis "stole the show," Forbes says. Between the big Zometa news--that the bone drug may actually prevent breast cancer recurrence--and dramatic data on an experimental med, the Swiss pharma came out of ASCO looking pretty sweet.
  • In what could eventually be good news for Amgen and Johnson & Johnson's anemia drugs, one study indicated that activity in certain tumor genes--the same ones the drugs target on blood cells--was correlated with bad outcomes. Presumably, if research bears this link out, the anemia meds could be targeted toward the patients whose tumors don't show that activity. (For the record, Amgen maintains that there's no link between the products and tumor progression.)
  • Novartis and Genentech shares were up on ASCO info, while ImClone's fell because Erbitux didn't make as good a showing as expected.

That's it for another year. It'll be interesting to see how all this new research translates into actual drug sales, won't it?

- read the WSJ Health Blog item on personalized cancer therapy
- see the Forbes story on Novartis
- check out the Health Blog post on anemia meds
- find the stock news at MarketWatch