Merck Cements Its Lung Cancer Lead

(Bloomberg) -- Merck & Co. might have just shut the door on rival Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. as investors weigh new data that could reshape the treatment of lung cancer, by far the deadliest form of cancer in the U.S.

Merck’s Keytruda with chemotherapy showed “practice-changing” results in a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting. While Bristol-Myers’s drug combination also met its goal in certain set of patients, the company still doesn’t have overall survival data and doctors may not see enough benefit yet to adopt a regimen that would require additional patient screening.

Merck Wins© Provided by Bloomberg LP Merck Wins

Shares of Merck climbed 2.8 percent at 10:31 a.m. in New York after earlier rising as much as 3.6 percent to their highest intraday level since Feb. 2. Bristol-Myers sank as much as 8.2 percent, its biggest drop since January 2017.

Bristol-Myers needed a home run to close the gap with Merck, which won approval for Keytruda in lung cancer last May based on an early trial. Credit Suisse said before the data were released that Bristol-Myers could fall as much as 6 percent if the results were disappointing. The stock had already slumped 15 percent over the past two months.

Bristol-Myers has been studying a combination of two of its drugs in newly diagnosed lung-cancer patients. In a 299-patient trial, patients with advanced lung cancer who got a combination of Yervoy and Opdivo were 42 percent less likely to have their disease progress, compared to patients on chemotherapy alone, according to data presented at the AACR meeting. Bristol-Myers had said in February that the trial succeeded but didn’t provide specifics.

Bristol-Myers had made a change midway through the trial, a move that prompted some skeptics to question whether the drugmaker was altering the trial to try and create a better result. Instead of a measure Bristol-Myers had used in past trials, it decided to target patients whose tumors have high levels of mutations, known as tumor mutation burden, or TMB.

While good news for Bristol-Myers, it may not be enough to leapfrog Merck.

“I don’t anticipate there will be any immediate impact on prescribing use or doctors’ behavior,” said Roy S. Herbst, head of oncology at Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut. “All this study does is tell you that TMB is clearly one marker of many that now needs to be considered as we figure out how to use immunotherapy for lung cancer and tumors.”

(Adds details of Bristol-Myers results beginning in fifth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Tatiana Darie and Cristin Flanagan

To contact the reporters on this story: Bailey Lipschultz in New York at, Jared S. Hopkins in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Catherine Larkin at, Will Daley

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

Source :