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When the biotech's cancer vaccine, GVAX Pancreas, was combined with Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE: BMY ) Yervoy, the median survival time increased to 5.5 months. The survival time with Yervoy alone was just 3.3 months. Put another way, the two together increased survival time by more than 60%.
There are the usual caveats with an early-stage trial. There were only 30 patients enrolled, so matching patients to each arm is challenging and a few patients can move the curve substantially. The stage of the disease is especially important when testing immunotherapies because early stage patients tend to do better since their immune systems are more easily stimulated to attack the tumor. There may be a hint of that in the one-year survival data: 27% of patients taking Yervoy and GVAX Pancreas lived at least a year compared with just 7% that got Yervoy alone.
Yervoy isn't approved as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, so GVAX Pancreas will probably have to be compared to Eli Lilly's (NYSE: LLY ) Gemzar, the current standard of care, potentially in combination with Astellas and Roche's Tarceva.
And who knows what the landscape might be like by the time GVAX Pancreas would be scheduled to be approved? Clovis Oncology (Nasdaq: CLVS ) has a compound, CO-101, which is similar to Gemzar and will read out its pivotal study shortly. Threshold Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: THLD ) TH-302 just read out solid phase 2 data. And Celgene is testing already-approved Abraxane in pancreatic cancer patients as well.
GVAX Pancreas is years away from an FDA approval and might never make it to
market, but the company is worth more because investors should have more
confidence in its potential and the platform it has built to develop cancer
vaccines for other tumor types
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