Lilly experimental drug fails in late-stage trial for pancreatic cancer

Shares of Eli Lilly and Co. dipped Wednesday morning after the Indianapolis-based drugmaker said its highly touted experimental pancreatic cancer treatment failed to meet its goal of overall survival in a late-stage clinical trial.

The study evaluated Lilly’s drug, called pegilodecakin, plus a combination of chemotherapy drugs, compared to the chemotherapy drugs alone in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Metastatic pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest major cancers, with just 3% of patients in the U.S. living at least five years after the cancer is diagnosed. More than 55,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually.

“Pancreatic cancer has proven to be one of the most difficult tumor types to treat and there have been very few recent treatment advancements in the later-line metastatic setting,” Dr. Maura Dickler, vice president, late phase development, Lilly Oncology, said in a statement.

Lilly shares dropped 1.3%, to $108.29 each, in midmorning trading Wednesday. Lilly said Wednesday it would continue to study the drug in lung cancer and other tumor types, including renal cell carcinoma.

Lilly acquired pegilodecakin last year through its $1.6 billion acquisition of Armo BioSciences, a small, eight-year-old biotech of Redwood City, California. The drug was the company’s lead product. At the time, Lilly officials said they believed pegilodecakin had a “unique immunologic mechanism of action that could eventually allow physicians to offer new hope for many cancer patients.”

Research firm BMO Capital Markets said last year that pegilodecakin might achieve peak annual sales of $260 million for pancreatic cancer and $1 billion for non-small-cell lung cancer.

Lilly has been pushing hard in recent years to beef up its oncology portfolio, in hopes of becoming a major player in cancer treatments. The company now ranks ninth in oncology pharmaceuticals, with cancer drugs accounting for about 20% of Lilly’s revenue, or $4.3 billion last year—far behind industry leader Roche, which racked up $27.8 billion in cancer drug.

Earlier this year, Lilly paid $8 billion to buy another drugmaker, Loxo Oncology, a Connecticut-based startup that is developing cancer-treatment medicines based on tumors’ genetic traits.

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