Novartis, Roche blockbusters shine at ASCO

While experimental therapies grab a major chunk of the attention at the annual ASCO meeting, existing drugs have their share of new data to crow about. Here's a roundup of the biggest news coming out of the American Society of Clinical Oncology confab in Chicago. (For more on those experimental meds, see our sister pub, FierceBiotech).

  • The Novartis cancer pill Gleevec, already a major blockbuster approved to treat several forms of the disease, cleared a big hurdle in a gastrointestinal trial. The drug actually extended the lives of patients with a difficult-to-treat type of disease--GIST, or gastrointestinal stromal tumors--when used for three years after surgery, compared with the usual one-year regimen. It's the kind of data that's likely to change treatment protocols immediately, researchers said. Story | Report

  • Roche's Avastin cut the risk of ovarian cancer progression by 52 percent when added to chemotherapy, with median progression-free survival at 12.4 months for the Avastin patients and 8.4 months for the chemo-only group. In another study, the drug appeared to help newly diagnosed patients live longer--with 178 deaths in the Avastin group compared with 200 in the standard-therapy group--but it was in women with more advanced cancers that the drug worked most reliably to reduce the risk of death. Article

  • Johnson & Johnson's prostate cancer drug Zytiga improved patient survival time slightly better than in previous research, boosting it to 4.6 months from 3.9 months. Zytiga patients were found to live for a median of 15.8 months, compared with 11.2 months for placebo patients. The results came in a study that may have broader applications as well: Researchers found that patients who had the lowest levels of tumor cells circulating in their blood were more likely to survive than men who had more of them. Report | News

  • An estrogen-blocking drug that's now available as a generic helped reduce the risk of breast cancer by 65 percent in older women at high risk of developing the disease. Aromasin, a Pfizer drug, also had fewer side effects than commonly used preventives such as tamoxifen. News | Story

  • And last but not least, Eli Lilly's Alimta drug delayed progression of lung cancer by 1.3 months when used as a maintenance therapy in patients who were already treated with it as part of their first-round cancer cocktail. Lilly says it will use the data to support an FDA application for a new indication in maintenance therapy. Report | Article