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Celgene rises on Abraxane pancreatic cancer data

NEW YORK (AP) -- Celgene Corp. shares rose Monday after the company said its cancer drug Abraxane improved survival for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

THE SPARK: On Friday, the Summit, N.J., company said patients who took a combination of Abraxane and Eli Lilly and Co.'s drug Gemzar lived longer than patients who took only Gemzar. The results come from a late-stage clinical trial of 861 patients with pancreatic cancer that had metastasized.

Celgene said it will report more data from the trial at a medical conference in January.

THE BIG PICTURE: Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancers because even though it is relatively uncommon, long-term survival is poor. Only about 5 percent of patients are still alive 5 years after diagnosis.

Abraxane was first approved as a treatment for breast cancer. In October, the Food and Drug Administration approved it as a primary treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, and Celgene is also studying the drug as a treatment for melanoma.

U.S. sales of Abraxane in the first half of the year, prior to the lung cancer approval, totaled $168 million.

THE ANALYSIS: Stifel Nicolaus analyst Joel Sendek said the patients treated with only Gemzar probably survived for about six months after the study began, and an improvement of six weeks or more for the Abraxane patients would be meaningful. Sendek said he expects the FDA to approve Abraxane as a treatment for pancreatic cancer in 2014. He said sales of the drug in pancreatic cancer should be around $92 million in 2014 and $241 million in 2015.

Citi Investment Research analyst Yaron Weber gave a similar forecast, saying he expects the data will show patients lived 1.5 to 2 months longer based on other studies. Both analysts kept "Buy" ratings on Celgene shares.

SHARE ACTION: Celgene stock picked up $3.80, or 5.3 percent, to $75.30 in afternoon trading. The shares are up more than 20 percent since June 21. That day the stock took a tumble because Celgene announced it was slowing down its plans to seek more marketing approvals for Revlimid, a different cancer drug.