Biotech drugs for colon cancer face off


erbituxNEW YORK (Reuters) - Sales of colon cancer drug Erbitux have not been hurt by the launch last month of Amgen Inc.'s rival drug Vectibix, the chief executive of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said on Wednesday.

"It is awfully soon, but they launched at a discount, which usually suggests that the product may not be as good as ours or is for a narrower indication," James Cornelius, interim CEO of Bristol-Myers, said at the Reuters Health Summit in New York.

Bristol gets 60 percent of revenue from partner ImClone Systems Inc.'s sales of Erbitux.

Amgen, which priced its drug at $8,000 a month, or a 20 percent discount to the $10,000 a month average cost of Erbitux, is expected a carry out a formidable campaign to dislodge Erbitux as the leading treatment for colon cancer patients who have failed other therapies and said earlier this week the launch of Vectibix is going better than expected.

"The message we heard loud and clear from the oncology community was that ImClone overpriced their drug. We felt the need to price appropriately and responsibly," said Cynthia Schwalm, head of Amgen's oncology operations.

Elliott Sigel, chief scientific officer at Bristol-Myers, said annual sales of Erbitux are expected to continue to rise to $1 billion and beyond as the drug is approved for new indications.

He said Vectibix, which is approved for treatment of colon cancer patients who have stopped responding to chemotherapy, has a narrow indication.

"The big differentiator is that doctors will look for evidence ... The best thing to do is to compete on the data," Sigel said.

He also noted that Bristol-Myers and Imclone expect to discuss in January data on Erbitux showing a positive impact on survival for colon cancer patients.

Schwalm said early demand for Vectibix has exceeded Amgen's initial expectations, with orders received from 300 hospitals and clinics.

She said the fact that Amgen's drug is given once every two weeks is a huge benefit for patients with late-stage cancer.


© Reuters 2006