Bristol to seek OK for up to 3 cancer drugs in '07

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Bristol Myers SquibbNEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Bristol-Myers Squibb <BMY.N> said on Thursday it could seek approval for as many as three new cancer drugs by next year, including treatments for melanoma and cancers of the breast and bladder.

The company said it plans to seek approval next year for breast cancer drug ixabepilone and to seek approvals by late 2007 or 2008 for bladder cancer treatment vinflunine and melanoma drug ipilimumab.

The timelines were given at a media tour of the company's oncology laboratories in New Brunswick, New Jersey by Robert Kramer, vice president of oncology and immunology drug discovery.

Kramer singled out ipilimumab as perhaps the most exciting of the three drugs, noting current treatments for melanoma, such as interferon, have only minimal effectiveness.

"Ipilimumab would be an advance over current treatments," he said, noting the medicine is designed to put a brake on a protein that hampers the immune system.

Bristol has partnered with biotechnology company Medarex Inc. <MEDX.O> in the development of ipilimumab.

Wall Street already expects another new Bristol cancer drug, Sprycel for leukemia, to be an important sales driver. Morgan Stanley analyst Jami Rubin earlier this month forecast that sales of Sprycel, which won U.S. approval in June, would reach $750 million by 2010.

Bristol officials said on Thursday that the development of Sprycel was a major achievement and that the drug had been brought to market in near-record time.

Bristol is also seeking to expand the use of another cancer drug, Erbitux, which it markets in partnership with ImClone Systems Inc. <IMCL.O> for colon cancer and head and neck cancer.

Erbitux sales jumped 64 percent to $175 million in the third quarter, although Amgen Inc.'s <AMGN.O> recently approved Vectibix threatens to erode Erbitux's market share.

Bristol is fighting to regain its stature as an oncology leader, after the company's Taxol cancer drug lost patent protection.

Other companies, such as Genentech Inc. <DNA.N> and Novartis AG <NOVN.VX>, have become more established in the cancer field.

Oncology is seen as one of the most lucrative areas for the pharmaceutical industry. Companies such as Pfizer Inc. <PFE.N>, which last month said it plans to begin 10 late-stage trials of cancer drugs through 2008, are vying to gain leadership.

Bristol-Myers shares were down 2 cents at $25.49 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

source - Reuters