U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 24 mins

Amgen Drug Breaks New Ground

- By Barry Cohen

Amgen Inc. (AMGN) has accomplished something cancer researchers have failed to do for decades. That is, develop a potentially breakthrough treatment for one of the most well-known genetic causes of cancer. It could be a game changer for treating certain types of tumors, benefiting patients and rewarding the company and its shareholders.

The company presented results of an early-stage trial for the drug AMG 510 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting on June 3 in Chicago. Over the following two days, Amgen's shares climbed more than $4. Investors must have anticipated the company was going to present good news since the stock is up about $8 since the beginning of the month to $174.73. Even with the boost, though, Amgen is well off its 52-week high of $210.

There could be plenty more upside if AMG 510 lives up to expectations. But keep in mind the drug is only in Phase 1 testing, so it has some significant hurdles to negotiate until it's approved for use.

Still, enthusiasm for the test results was widespread among the medical community..

The therapy's target is KRAS, an oncogene known to be responsible for many lung, pancreatic and colorectal cancers, according to an article in BioPharmaDive. Amgen's accomplishment is magnified by the number of failures of many predecessors to come up with something that works.

No other therapies have been effective, Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at the Yale Cancer Center, said in an interview with BioPharmaDive.

"KRAS is like the master of a symphony. It turns on so many different pathways," he added.

AMG 510 is the first therapy of its type to advance to clinical testing. According to the article, it targets a specific type of KRAS mutation that is found in about 13% of non-small cell lung cancers, 3% to 5% of colorectal cancers and between 1% and 3% of other solid tumors.

Herbst called the effectiveness of the Amgen drug "extraordinary," but noted it's still early in the game.

Amgen's announcement also lifted the shares of San Diego-based Mirati Therapeutics (MRTX), which gained more than 12% in the past two days and is up more than $30 since May 31. It also has an entry in the KRAS field.

Depending on future results, it's possible that AMG 510 could become tumor-agnostic, meaning any patient with a solid tumor showing a KRAS-type mutation would be eligible to receive the drug, thus expanding its use, Dr. Marwan Fakih, an oncologist at City of Hope in Duarte, California explained in an interview with MedCity News. Merck & Co. (MRK) and Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY) also have drugs with what is called tumor-agnostic labels.

Disclosure: The author has positions in Amgen and Eli Lilly.

Read more here:

Not a Premium Member of GuruFocus? Sign up for a free 7-day trial here .

This article first appeared on GuruFocus.