10/02/2012 09:29 am ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

Abraxane: Melanoma Drug Helps Patients Live Longer In Trial

* Increases progression-free survival in metastatic melanoma

* No details given of magnitude of benefit

* Data seen as positive, but market is competitive

* Shares rise as much as 2.7 pct (Adds background, share price, analyst comment)

By Toni Clarke

Oct 2 (Reuters) - Celgene Corp said on Tuesday that patients with metastatic melanoma who took its drug Abraxane in a late-stage clinical trial lived for a longer period without getting worse than those who received the chemotherapy dacarbazine.

Abraxane is currently approved to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer who have failed to respond to other treatments. Celgene is hoping to win approval to market it for other types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer and melanoma, which, left untreated, is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Celgene is expected to release details of the magnitude of the benefit seen in the latest trial at a medical conference next month, but investment analysts said the drug will probably need to show that it lengthens life in a meaningful way if it is to be competitive.

If approved, Abraxane would compete with products such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy, known also as ipilimumab, and Roche Holding AG's Zelboraf, or vemurafenib.

"We view today's news as an upside surprise, given very low expectations for Abraxane in this indication," Geoff Meacham, an analyst at J.P. Morgan, said in a research note.

Celgene's shares were up 2.4 percent to $78.60 in mid-morning trading on Nasdaq after rising as high as $78.83 at the open.

About 132,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year globally, the company said, citing data from the World Health Organization.

Celgene acquired Abraxane when it bought Abraxis BioScience in 2010 for $2.9 billion. The drug combines the cancer chemotherapy paclitaxel with a protein called albumin which Celgene believes helps deliver a greater amount of chemotherapy to cancer cells with fewer side effects.

Paclitaxel is one of a class of chemotherapies known as taxanes that have shown little efficacy by themselves in melanoma. The question is whether the apparent benefit seen with Abraxane in melanoma will also be seen in a late-stage pancreatic cancer trial whose results are expected later this year.

Celgene also expects to hear by Oct. 12 whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve Abraxane in non-small cell lung cancer. A successful expansion of the drug's use into lung and other cancers would help justify what some investors considered an excessively high price paid by Celgene for Abraxis.

"We view today's news as incrementally positive," said Brian Abrahams, an analyst at Wells Fargo, "though more data will be needed to fully assess the opportunity." (Reporting by Toni Clarke in Boston; Additional reporting by Balaji Sridharan in Bangalore; Editing by Sreejiraj Eluvangal, Maureen Bavdek and Tim Dobbyn)



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