Nexavar fails combo trial, but keeps liver cancer crown

Nexavar plus Tarceva did not equate to improved survival for liver cancer patients in a new trial. But that doesn't mean Nexavar is losing its edge.

In fact, Nexavar's top-of-the-hill position in liver cancer may be more secure than ever. Yes, adding Roche's ($RHHBY) Tarceva to Nexavar therapy didn't boost overall survival in patients whose tumors couldn't be removed surgically. But that's a "slight negative," analysts said.

More importantly, the news followed last week's triumph in a head-to-head trial. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) tested its experimental drug brivanib against Nexavar, and failed to surpass the Bayer drug's results.

Nexavar, co-marketed by Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals ($ONXX), is a standard treatment for liver cancer, and it's a big seller for both companies. Nexavar officially became a blockbuster at year's end, with 2011 sales just topping the $1 billion threshold. And Bayer expects it to peak at $2.45 billion.

J.P. Morgan analyst Cory Kasimov figures that Nexavar will keep its status in liver cancer. "This removes the last near-term threat to Nexavar in [liver cancer] and, as such, reinforces our view that Nexavar will remain the standard of care therapy until its patent expires in 2020," Kasimov wrote in an investor note after the Bristol-Myers data hit.

After today's trial failure, analysts kept their sales estimates, Reuters notes. It's worth mentioning that Nexavar performed well on its own. It's also worth mentioning that Nexavar topped Pfizer's ($PFE) Sutent in liver cancer in a similar head-to-head trial two years ago.

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