Bayer’s blockbuster pipeline promises broken by a PhII setback for top cancer drug

Bayer touted its experimental cancer drug anetumab ravtansine as a $2 billion-plus peak earner in the making for the pharma company. And it just flopped in its first mid-stage study — this one focused on rare cases of mesothelioma.

Werner Baumann, Bayer CEO

Bayer will detail the data later, but investigators say the drug flunked a Phase II study with a primary endpoint of progression free survival. The drug is also currently in 6 other early stage studies for a variety of tumor types.

The drug has caused considerable head scratching among some of the analysts who follow this company, as well as some of the big investors.

“Bayer is feeling a certain euphoria about the pipeline product anetumab, which I can’t comprehend at the moment,” Markus Manns, who helps manage assets at Union Investment GmbH, told Bloomberg last year.

Looking to assure the markets that its pharma business wouldn’t languish as it pursued Monsanto, Bayer had predicted that its pipeline included 6 drugs — vericiguat, finerenone, vilaprisan, BAY-1841788, anetumab ravtansine and copanlisib — with 6 billion euros in peak sales.  Anetumab was Exhibit A in that case.

Michael Schmidt at Leerink noted:

Anetumab is an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) directed against mesothelin, comprising an antibody developed by Morphosys and utilizing IMGN’s ADC technology. IMGN could potentially earn tiered mid-single digit (4-7%) royalties on anetumab sales, but this is not reflected in our model or Street estimates.

Bayer seems ready to plow ahead.

“Based on the available data, we remain committed to further evaluating the utility and safety of anetumab ravtansine across multiple tumor types with significant unmet medical need,” said Robert LaCaze, an EVP at Bayer.

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