Four Big Areas to Watch at the Upcoming ASCO Meeting, Biotech's Biggest Cancer Confab

Last Updated May 21, 2010 4:08 PM EDT

ASCO cancer biotechIn just two weeks, cancer vaccines, personalized medicine and other hot topics will take center stage at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), one of the drug industry's most important scientific conferences of the year.

ASCO is a big deal for a number of reasons. First, a big portion of biotech and pharma new drug research is focused on cancer, and the most exciting research is presented at ASCO. Second, how the 30,000 cancer specialists attending ASCO respond to your data might indicate how eager doctors will be to prescribe your drug. Third, good ASCO data from biotechs often catches the eye of big pharma partners. Fourth, drug stocks tend to go into high gear around the ASCO conference.

For all of those reasons and others, most folks in the drug industry will be keeping a keen eye on ASCO, which kicks off June 4 in Chicago. But the summary data were released last night, so here's a preview of some trends, companies and drugs to watch:

  • Cancer Vaccines: Thanks to the recent FDA approval of Dendreon's (DNDN) prostate cancer vaccine Provenge (sipuleucel-T), cancer vaccines are no longer oncology's red-headed stepchildren. Watch for Celldex Therapeutics (CLDX) and partner Pfizer (PFE) to present interim Phase II data on their brain cancer vaccine, CDX-110. Dendreon will also have some exploratory analyses from its Phase III program, and Argos Therapeutics will have Phase II data with its kidney cancer vaccine AGS-003, one of the few cancer vaccines that just might be similar enough to Dendreon's Provenge to warrant excitement.
  • Personalized Medicine: This was a hot topic at the American Association for Cancer Research conference earlier this year, and it should be hot again. Look for mutation-specific data on Plexxikon and Roche's BRAF-inhibitor PLX4032 (RG7204) in melanoma and colon cancer, as well as Pfizer's ALK-inhibitor crizotinib in lung cancer.
  • Ovarian Cancer: There looks to be lots of data against this hard-to-treat cancer this year, including results on Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab), Nektar Therapeutics' (NKTR) NKTR-102 and Sunesis' (SNSS) voreloxin, as well as a new approach for diagnosing ovarian cancer.
  • Maintenance Therapy: Most cancer drugs are initially approved in end-stage patients, but drug companies like to expand their labels to earlier-stage patients if they can. A popular approach right now is maintenance therapy, which means you give the drug to patients who've already responded to something like chemo in the hopes of making remission last longer. Look for Phase III maintenance data on Celgene's (CELG) Revlimid (lenalidomide) in multiple myeloma and Roche's Rituxan (rituximab) in follicular lymphoma.
Doctor photo by Flickr user Waldo Jaquith, CC.
  • Trista Morrison

    Trista Morrison is a staff writer at BioWorld Today, a daily newspaper that