Lilly lung cancer drug raises patient survival in trial

Eli Lilly and Co.’s experimental lung cancer medicine increased survival among patients compared with those on chemotherapy alone.

Shares in the Indianapolis-based drugmaker rose as much as 5.5 percent Tuesday morning after the announcement.

The drug, called necitumumab, met the primary endpoint of increasing overall survival in a trial involving 1,093 patients with non-small cell lung cancer whose disease had spread, the company said in a statement. Necitumumab was tested in patients with a type of tumor known as squamous cell carcinoma.

If approved, the drug would be a potent boost to Lilly’s product portfolio. It would also mean a critical new therapy for a cancer that’s proven difficult to treat with drugs such as Avastin that directly target tumors, as opposed to more broadly active chemotherapy drugs.

“This is a clear upside surprise,” Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group LLC, said in a note to clients.

Next year, Lilly plans to release full results from the study at a scientific meeting and anticipates submitting it to regulatory authorities. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for about 85 percent of lung cancer, and patients with squamous cell carcinoma make up about 30 percent of those patients. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

“If apprved, necitumumab could be the first biologic therapy indicated to treat patients with squamous lung cancer,” Richard Gaynor, vice president, product development and medical affairs for Lilly Oncology, said in a prepared statement.

Lilly shares were up 4.4 percent, to $55.93 each at 10:46 a.m. The shares have gained 26 percent in the last 12 months as of Monday’s close.

Analysts had “basically zero” expectations for necitumumab, Schoenebaum said in his note. The drug failed in a prior non-squamous lung cancer trial, he said.

“We really need to see the full data to understand risk/benefit,” Schoenebaum said.

The most common adverse events seen in the study included rash. Less frequent, yet serious, side effects included blood clotting, Lilly said.

 

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