Celgene's Abraxane shows promise in pancreatic cancer

A drug that Celgene ($CELG) acquired in its $2.9 billion acquisition of Abraxis BioScience in 2010 is showing promise against the notoriously hard-to-treat pancreatic cancer.  

The disease kills 38,000 Americans each year, nearly as many as those who die from breast cancer and a much larger percentage rate of those diagnosed. So observers see promise from the results of a new study that showed Celgene's Abraxane plus gemcitabine, the standard drug for pancreatic cancer, led to a median survival rate of 8.5 months, compared with 6.7 months for those who received gemcitabine alone. It also improved survival rates after one and two years, the company reported today. 

The results were pretty much in line with what investors were expecting, according to The New York Times. Analysts saw potential when Celgene added Abraxane to its portfolio because it is a "platform drug" used to treat several forms of cancer. It was approved in the U.S. in October for treating lung cancer and is approved in the U.S. and many other countries for treating breast cancer. 

The drug had sales of $320 million in the first 9 months of last year. The global market for pancreatic cancer treatments is only about $700 million, according to industry research firm Decision Resources. The firm estimates the U.S. market will grow to $829 million in the U.S. by 2019. Celgene said it would apply for approval in the the first half of the year for Abraxane the new indication, according to The New York Times.

But Abraxane is not the only investigational drug showing promise for treating pancreatic cancer. As the newspaper points out, a trial of Folfirinox, a combination of four generic cancer drugs showed a median survival of 11.1 months compared with 6.8 months for those getting gemcitabine. On the other hand, patients have to wear an infusion pump to take Folfirinox and it can be hard to tolerate.

"The simplicity of Abraxane plus gemcitabine may be attractive to physicians and patients," Dr. Neal J. Meropol of the University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland tells The New York Times

- read the New York Times story (sub. req.)
- here's the company release