Lilly: Biologic Drug Boosted Lung Cancer Survival


Eli Lilly & Co. shares rose Wednesday, after the drugmaker said previously treated patients with a type of lung cancer who took its experimental drug survived longer than those in a comparison group in a late-stage test of the drug.

Meanwhile, an analyst wrote that he sees the biologic drug, called ramucirumab, as “a significant opportunity” for Lilly, with possible future sales exceeding $1 billion a year — just for non-small cell lung cancer patients who have unsuccessfully tried another medicine.

BernsteinResearch analyst Dr. Tim Anderson wrote to investors that ramucirumab likely will be approved in the U.S. and European Union this year for treating gastric cancer, a use for which analysts, on average, expect $850 million in annual sales by 2020.

Lilly has been testing ramucirumab against a variety of tumor types. It’s expected to release more data this year from other studies, including in colorectal and liver cancer patients.

While ramucirumab previously failed to work in a late-stage study in other cancer patients, Lilly noted that the latest study, dubbed REVEL, is the third late-stage patient test in which it has increased both overall survival time and time without the tumor growing. The other two studies were both in gastric cancer patients.

In REVEL, more than 1,200 patients in 26 countries, with either squamous or non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer, received the chemotherapy drug docetaxel together with either a fake drug or Lilly’s ramucirumab. Those getting ramucirumab lived longer, but Lilly didn’t say by how much.

The company, which is based in Indianapolis, plans to disclose detailed results at a future scientific meeting, and sometime this year intends to apply for approval from regulators.

The biologic drug, grown in living cells rather than being produced by mixing chemicals together, uses targeted antibodies to block formation and maintenance of new blood vessels that tumors need to supply them with blood.

Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for about 85 percent of cases of lung cancer, the top cause of cancer death in the U.S. and most other countries. Altogether, lung cancer kills nearly 1.6 million people around the world every year.

In trading Wednesday, Lilly closed up $2.84, or 5.14 percent, to $58.09.