Skep­tics pounce af­ter Bris­tol-My­ers scores an ear­ly hit on Op­di­vo-Yer­voy com­bo for lung can­cer

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s close­ly watched study dubbed Check­mate-227 hit ear­ly, with re­searchers tout­ing a suc­cess for their com­bi­na­tion of Op­di­vo and Yer­voy in treat­ing front­line non-small cell lung can­cer cas­es.

Gio­van­ni Caforio

In a state­ment the com­pa­ny $BMY says that re­searchers tracked a “high­ly” sig­nif­i­cant pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate for pa­tients with a high tu­mor mu­ta­tion bur­den (TMB), re­gard­less of PD-L1 ex­pres­sion. Their com­bi­na­tion was com­pared with chemo in the study, which is still track­ing for over­all sur­vival re­sults.

That’s a sig­nif­i­cant group, an­a­lysts note, point­ing to Bris­tol-My­ers’ pro­jec­tion that the TMB crowd ac­counts for 45% of all front­line pa­tients. Bris­tol-My­ers re­designed the study to go af­ter the bio­mark­er af­ter stum­bling on a piv­otal tri­al that in­volved a pa­tient pop­u­la­tion that was not so nar­row­ly de­fined. All the de­vel­op­ers are shift­ing to a bio­mark­er fo­cus as they duke it out for spe­cif­ic slices of a mega block­buster-sized mar­ket.

Skep­tics, though, be­gan to re­tal­i­ate ear­ly, and af­ter a sharp jump ear­ly in the day, shares are trad­ing down 3% as crit­ics won­der if Bris­tol-My­ers can fol­low through with con­vinc­ing da­ta. We asked lung can­cer ex­pert Jack West for his take, which you can see here, ques­tion­ing the way the bio­mark­er was han­dled and not­ing that prac­ti­tion­ers will need to see more be­fore chang­ing the way they treat pa­tients.

Hus­tling along in search of pos­i­tive da­ta, Bris­tol-My­ers es­sen­tial­ly in­te­grat­ed two par­al­lel stud­ies in­volv­ing more than 1,700 pa­tients. And R&D chief Tom Lynch told an­a­lysts this morn­ing that there’s more work to be done on TMB-de­fined stud­ies, with up­com­ing da­ta read­outs on gas­tric, lung and head and neck can­cers.

Some an­a­lysts had been won­der­ing if Bris­tol-My­ers might just call a suc­cess to­day, with its Q4 re­port com­ing up. Past mishaps for  Op­di­vo in the all-im­por­tant NSCLC group cost it big time as Mer­ck surged ahead with a com­bi­na­tion of Keytru­da and chemo.

Just a few days ago Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez at Leerink not­ed:

While suc­cess at the OS in­ter­im rep­re­sents a very high bar, this would be a huge­ly pos­i­tive sur­prise. We be­lieve a win here would sug­gest that Op­di­vo + Yer­voy could have a crit­i­cal­ly im­por­tant place in the treat­ment of NSCLC.

Bris­tol-My­ers CEO Gio­van­ni Caforio called it a “break­through in can­cer re­search and a mean­ing­ful step for­ward in de­ter­min­ing which first-line lung can­cer pa­tients may ben­e­fit most from the com­bi­na­tion of Op­di­vo and Yer­voy.”

“TMB has emerged as an im­por­tant bio­mark­er for the ac­tiv­i­ty of im­munother­a­py. For the first time, this Phase 3 study shows su­pe­ri­or PFS with first-line com­bi­na­tion im­munother­a­py in a pre­de­fined pop­u­la­tion of NSCLC pa­tients with high TMB,” said Matthew Hell­mann, study in­ves­ti­ga­tor and med­ical on­col­o­gist at Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter. “Check­Mate-227 showed that TMB is an im­por­tant, in­de­pen­dent pre­dic­tive bio­mark­er that can iden­ti­fy a pop­u­la­tion of first-line NSCLC pa­tients who may ben­e­fit from the nivolum­ab plus ip­il­i­mum­ab com­bi­na­tion.”

Not every­one was im­pressed by the top-line re­sults, though.

The win here is al­so a plus for Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine $FMI, which pro­vid­ed the test used to pick pa­tients with a high TMB.

As­traZeneca — which ear­li­er record­ed a ma­jor fail for its com­bi­na­tion of its check­point drug Imfinzi and treme­li­mum­ab, an­oth­er PD-1/L1 check­point com­bined with an ex­per­i­men­tal CT­LA-4 drug — failed the first step on PFS with their com­bo. The OS da­ta is due out lat­er in the year.

The im­pli­ca­tions for Bris­tol-My­ers are con­sid­er­able. An ear­ly leader in the field, the R&D team on Op­di­vo have been work­ing fever­ish­ly to get their PD-1 back on track fol­low­ing a key miss in lung can­cer. But a suc­cess here on PD-1/CT­LA-4 will like­ly trig­ger fresh chat­ter of a pos­si­ble takeover bid by Pfiz­er, which has nev­er lost its ap­petite for a mega-merg­er. On the oth­er hand, such a takeover would al­so threat­en one of the most in­no­v­a­tive of the big bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies.

Op­di­vo earned close to $5 bil­lion last year, a 31% in­crease over 2016, mak­ing this their biggest sell­ing fran­chise drug. Eliquis is now their num­ber two ther­a­py, high­light­ing Op­di­vo’s over­sized role in the com­pa­ny’s fu­ture.

 

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