Wednesday evening brought with it the data dump on abstracts for the upcoming annual ASCO confab in Chicago in early June, and the big preliminary winner — not a big surprise — was Incyte, with a slate of new data points underscoring the potential of its leading, late-stage IDO1 drug epacadostat in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.
Incyte shares $INCY swelled 9.5% in after-market trading as investors got a glimpse of things to come, with a 30%-plus response rate for a full slate of combination studies that are now pushing into Phase III development.
Boiled down to the essentials:
- The non-small cell lung cancer group recorded a 35% overall response rate, with 14 of 40 patients experiencing a partial response. As a mono therapy, Keytruda scored a response rate of 18% to 20%.
- In head and neck cancer the response rate was 34%, 34% (2 CR, 8 PR) among 36 patients. #6010
- The preliminary overall response rate for urothelial cancer was 35% — 13 of 37 patients, all partial responses. #4503
- For kidney cancer the ORR was 30 percent, with a single complete response and 8 partials among 30 patients. #4515
The reason why these data points are important is that they reflect a distinct increase in the percent of patients who responded, compared to Keytruda alone, pointing to its positioning as a next wave leader for combo therapies. There are hundreds of trials underway now testing a slew of these combinations and this is one of the most prominent in the bunch.
Incyte and Merck $MRK recently signed off on an independent deal to combine their therapies in Phase III. But Incyte, which is developing its own checkpoint inhibitor, is agnostic about who it partners with right now in Phase III. It’s also signed up for a late-stage series with Bristol-Myers Squib $BMY, which is struggling to catch back up to Merck as the pharma rival surges ahead in lung cancer.
Merck, meanwhile, has more than just Incyte to thanks for another good day on the immuno-oncology front. Leerink’s Seamus Fernandez noted:
For MRK, the most meaningful data coming out of the ASCO abstracts are 1) the solid overall survival trend emerging from the Ph2 Keynote-021G cohort of Keytruda (pembrolizumab; anti-PD-1) + chemotherapy in non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and 2) the strong response rates seen in the ECHO-202 trial of Keytruda + INCY’s (OP) epacadostat (IDO inhibitor) in several tumor types (LINK). We expect MRK shares to be higher on the survival trend in KN-021G.
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