The Immunotherapy Revolution
Immunotherapy treatments could generate revenues of $ 35 billion within five years. BMS has a leading position in this market ahead of Roche, Merck and AstraZeneca. Les Echos reports.
If targeted cancer therapies are the holy grail for groups like Roche these days, a new wave of treatments mobilizes pharmaceutical companies: immunotherapy. Immunotherapy intends to restore the action of the immune system and empower it attack the tumors that silently develop inside the body.
Witness of this craze are the countless clinical studies presented in Chicago, at the last conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), oncology’s biggest industry appointment of the year. Even Swiss company Roche, which historically swore by targeted therapies, has adopted a new path, presenting several early clinical studies in the field of cancer immunotherapy.
In fact, this new generation of treatments may be used in up to 60% of all cancers and generate, within five years, annual revenues of $35 billion, according to Andrew Braun, an analyst at Citigroup, who recently devoted a study to the subject.
The race was initiated in 2010 by American company BMS, showing the first effective data in the treatment of melanoma, via a molecule that would take the trade name of Yervoy. Sold today in Europe and the United States, the molecule has still attracted sustained interest at ASCO this year, with successful clinical trials. It was tested in combination with nivolumab, another immunotherapeutic molecule from BMS, which targets a different stage of the immune response.
BMS IS NOT ALONE IN THE RACE
Today, BMS occupies a leading position in immunotherapy. “Beyond these first two products, the U.S. group has a significant pipeline of molecules targeting other key points of the immune response,” explains Hervé Brailly, president of Innate Pharma, which co-develops a product with BMS. According to Citigroup, all of these molecules combined could generate sales of about $7 billion by 2015 for the U.S. laboratory.
But BMS is not alone in the race. Roche and Merck are both developing competing products to nivolumab, and have also presented conclusive results at ASCO. AstraZeneca on the other hand is in a singular position. Its twin molecule to of BMS’ Yervoy did not pan out. But the British group is not giving up. As part of the redefinition of its strategy, it decided to build upon the strong culture and oncology expertise of MedImmune, the division responsible for the development of biological products.
Finally, still in the field of immunotherapy, Novartis, Amgen, Pfizer and Roche are competing in leukemia research with products targeting the same abnormality of cancerous blood cells called CD19. A market that is still growing and that represents 3% of new cancer cases each year.