Trial suggests Erbitux has first-line potential

ImClone and Bristol-Myers Squibb said results of a phase III trial of Erbitux support its use as a first-line treatment for metastatic colon cancer. The drug delayed progression of the disease in patients who took it in combination with a chemotherapy as an initial line of treatment, they said. The ability to be used in earlier lines of cancer would lend Erbitux a marketing edge. ImClone and BMS, which share US marketing rights to Erbitux (cetuximab), have faced greater competition since the 2006 launch of Vectibix (panitumumab) by Amgen. Both drugs are approved for metastatic colon cancer in combination with chemotherapy in patients who have failed other therapies. Amgen, bent on grabbing market share, has priced Vectibix at a 20% discount to Erbitux. The findings also provide a boost for Merck KGaA, ImClone’s Erbitux marketing partner outside of North America. The German firm officially launched its new pharmaceuticals business, Merck Serono, following the acquisition of Swiss-based biotech firm Serono. Merck conducted the phase III study. Analysts, however, said a lack of details about the Erbitux data make it difficult to compare the benefits of the two drugs at this stage. That didn't prevent Wall Street from sending ImClone shares up more than 8%, according to Reuters. Shares of Merck KGaA rose as much as 4.4% in early trading, following the announcement.

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