J&J, Roche, Novartis tout key cancer-drug data at ASH

With the American Society of Hematology meeting in New Orleans, a slew of blood cancer studies are in the spotlight. Three of the releases caught our eye, because they're significant new data on drugs already on the market.

Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) new drug Imbruvica (ibrutinib) delivered some impressive results in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients in a 148-patient study. After more than 27 months of treatment, Imbruvica held off cancer progression in nearly all of the previously untreated patients and almost three-fourths of patients who had failed on previous therapies.

Typically, CLL would progress in about 50% of patients after two years, the study's lead author, Dr. John Byrd, told Reuters. "You don't even need a statistician to see the difference," the Ohio State University professor said. "The data are better." Imbruvica was recently FDA-approved for mantle cell lymphoma and is awaiting the agency's nod in CLL; it's expected to hit $4.7 billion in sales by 2019. Release | Report

Roche's ($RHHBY) Gazyva beat out its predecessor, Rituxan, at staving off CLL in a head-to-head study that paired each drug with the chemotherapy chlorambucil. Gazyva patients lived almost a year longer without their cancer progressing. Top-line results of the study were announced last month, with full data unveiled at ASH. Roche is studying Gazyva in combination with other drugs for CLL. It won its first FDA approval Nov. 1. Report | Release

Novartis ($NVS) unveiled data from three Phase III studies that show its leukemia drug Tasigna (nilotinib) beat its own blockbuster, Glivec (imatinib), in several different patient groups. That's important to the Swiss drugmaker, as Glivec will be vulnerable to biosimilar competition as early as 2015--and Novartis hopes Tasigna can step in to fill the sales gap. And it's a big one; Glivec brought in $4.72 billion last year.

The ASH presentation focused on 5-year data from the ENESTnd study of patients with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia: those newly diagnosed, those who switched to Tasigna after long-term Glivec treatment, and those who failed to respond to first-line treatment with Glivec. Imatinib is marketed in the U.S. under the brand name Gleevec and elsewhere as Glivec. Release | Report

Special Reports: Top 20 Orphan Drugs by 2018 - ibrutinib - Tasigna | The 15 best-selling drugs of 2012 - Gleevec | Top 10 experimental cancer drugs of 2013

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that Roche is studying Gazyva in combination with ibrutinib. While Roche is testing Gazyva in combination with other drugs, ibrutinib is not one of them.