Lilly cancer drug gets pass/fail

Lilly Alimta patent extended to 2022
Lilly Alimta patent extended to 2022

Eli Lilly's results for its Phase III cancer medication ramucirumab were a mix of good news and bad news Thursday.

The good news: the drug met its goals for advanced gastric cancer, improving overall survival and progression-free survival, when used with paclitaxel, compared to paclitaxel with placebo.

The bad: it failed to meet its performance targets among patients women with locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, missing both progression-free and overall survival benefit goals. The company said in a statement that it will not seek a first-line treatment indication among breast cancer patients. Thursday's news follows an October 2012 Phase III study that compared ramucirumab-only vs placebo.

Leerink Swann analyst Seamus Fernandez wrote in his Thursday research note that the breast cancer news has not changed his view on the drug's potential. “We had always viewed the ramu breast cancer opportunity to be a call option,” he wrote, but added that his group was “somewhat surprised by the miss on” progression-free survival. Despite low expectations for this indication, this news did prompt a financial recalculation, prompting him to lower peak sales estimates by $300 million, to $1.3 billion.

Fernandez, who said he will be listening closely for cost-cutting information during Lilly's October 3rd analyst day, wrote that he expects Lilly to file for a gastric cancer indication this year, and anticipates a 2014 approval.