The annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) took place this past week in Orlando, FLA. Much of this meeting was dominated by industry giants such as Pfizer and Genentech. Although no magic bullets were revealed, the meeting does provide a forum for the smaller biotech companies to present their promising new drugs and also gives investors and others watching the industry an idea of what companies and technologies to keep an eye on.

“AP23573” – Ariad Pharmaceuticals This Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech’s new drug, AP23573, showed promising results among advanced sarcomas. AP23573 is an mTOR inhibitor, a popular class of drugs getting attention at big pharmaceutical firms such as Novartis. In a study with 51 patients from a mid-stage trial of AP23573, 37%, saw their cancers stabilize for at least six months. Three of those patients actually saw their tumors shrink. These results suggest that Ariad’s drug may have big potential.

“Acadopene” – GTx
GTx, founded by urologist Mitchell S. Steiner, is targeted to be the first drug firm aimed exclusively at men’s health–and, more specifically, at prostate cancer. Selective endrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs, including Eli Lilly’s Evista, block estrogen in some tumors, but also simulate estrogen-like effects, and are used to prevent osteoporosis in women. SERM’s have shown promise against breast and endometrial cancer as well. Steiner theorizes that estrogen may be a factor in the development of prostate cancer, and thinks that a SERM could keep the disease under control. In a phase II trial unveiled at ASCO, scientists demonstrated that GTx’s SERM, called Acadopene, reduced the chances of high-risk premalignant cells turning into prostate cancer by 48%. GTx is moving ahead with a phase III clinical trial in order to prove that the drug works for men.

“CRx-026” – CombinatoRx
This small, privately held company comes with a pedigree. It was founded by several researchers who are interested in attacking disease from multiple directions, using multiple chemical pathways. Peter Elliott, who co-developed Millennium’s Velcade, a treatment for multiple myeloma, is now working on new drugs at Boston-based CombinatoRx. The company showed extremely early data of its first cancer drug, CRx-026, in a handful of patients, and a few seemed to be helped by it. The data are very premature, but CombinatoRx could be one to watch.

“Dasatinib” – Bristol-Myers Squibb
Novartis’ Gleevec was the first gene-targeted pill to show a marked effect in a cancer–in this case, chronic myelogenous leukemia. But Gleevec eventually fails for some of those patients, as new mutations make the cancer more complex–and resistant to the drug. This new drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb appears to help those patients. Several studies appeared to link Dasatinib to mutations in specific cancer genes.

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