Moody's: New cancer drugs represent significant growth opportunity

NEW YORK — New approaches to treating cancer are creating big growth opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry, Moody's Investors Service stated in a report released Thursday titled "Cancer Breakthroughs Bring New Options for Patients and Revenue Streams to Big Pharma." Drugs for the treatment of solid tumors in prevalent cancer types will serve a large and growing market, the report noted.

"The high incidence of new cancer cases each year, increased life expectancy for patients and a expanding number of treatment options will drive strong growth in the market for solid tumor treatments at least though 2020," stated Michael Levesque, SVP Moody's. "Several drugs for the treatment of tumors in melanoma and lung and breast cancer are pending near-term approvals, while others could be launched in the next few years."

The new drugs fall into three main categories, Levesque noted. PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors represent the greatest potential in treating a wide range of solid tumors. They fall into a broader category known as immunotherapy, which differs from most current treatments by targeting the tumor itself. Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb are best positioned in the race to launch new immunotherapy drugs, with Merck possibly doing so later this year. And while Roche and AstraZeneca are slightly behind, they still stand to benefit from this high-growth area.

A second category known as CDK 4/6 inhibitors encompasses several experimental drugs that could meet an unmet need in treating breast cancer, according to the report. Breast cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed types of cancer, and will account for 16% of new cases of solid tumors this year. Pfizer will be the first to file in the class with its drug palbociclib, and is poised to be the leader. Novartis and Eli Lilly are also testing products in late-stage clinical trials.

AbbVie and AstraZeneca both have large opportunities in a new class of cancer drugs known as PARP inhibitors. When used after chemotherapy, PARP inhibitors prevent a protein in tumor cells from repairing the tumor. AbbVie's PARP inhibitor is in phase III for a select type of breast cancer and in non-small cell lung cancer, while AstraZeneca has filed its PARP inhibitor for use in the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Beyond these categories, several other cancer drugs in the pipeline represent medium to large opportunities, according to the report. Lilly has received approval for its drug Cyramza, for the treatment of gastric cancer. Additionally, both Roche and Novartis have deep oncology pipelines with a mix of approved drugs in new indications and new chemical entities that will drive incremental growth over the next several years.

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