Asco Event Analyzer – 2015’s winners and losers

Neither Bristol-Myers Squibb nor Puma Biotechnology can be scored numerically as the biggest loser coming out of Asco, but in terms of sentiment they were neck-and-neck for that title. Both took heavy losses after investors had a chance to look at new data from the vaunted projects Opdivo and neratinib.

On the positive side, the real conference story was that of largely overlooked projects from ImmunoGen and Ignyta revealing unexpected promise. And on balance, Asco 2015 showed that the biggest names had more to lose than the small ones had to gain, confirming where the greatest investment opportunities exist during the world’s biggest oncology meeting (see tables below).

To measure the effect of Asco-related data disclosures, EP Vantage analysed share movements from the markets’ close on May 13, after which the meeting’s abstracts were released to the public, through to the end of trading June 2, its final day. Companies are ranked by percentage change in share price.

Losers

With immunotherapy now well established as an area of untapped potential, the pressure was on for the big players Bristol-Myers, Merck & Co and Roche to perform at Asco. Unfortunately, for the first of those three the opening day was a stumble as its shares sank by a weighty 7% after presenting data that could limit use of its immunotherapy Opdivo in lung cancer to patients who are PD-L1-positive.

Although the news wiped $7.6bn off Brisol's market cap on 29 May, the day it reported the data, over the entire Asco period the shares were down just 2% as a Monday rebound reversed some of the momentum-driven trades. And Bristol can take heart from the fact that PD-L1 status is a controversial biomarker, and could soon be replaced by other, more relevant markers.

Top 15 losses – ranked on % change in share price from May 13 to June 2 
Share price Market cap ($m)
Company % change At close June 2 Change
Calithera Biosciences (31%) 159 (73)
Puma Biotechnology (30%) 4715 (2028)
Adaptimmune (13%) 1048 (151)
Karyopharm Therapeutics (10%) 947 (100)
Clovis Oncology (4%) 2821 (109)
AstraZeneca (3%) 84662 (2967)
Synta Pharmaceuticals (3%) 298 (10)
Merck KGaA (3%) 29115 (908)
Takeda (3%) 39540 (1232)
CytRx (3%) 223 (7)
Bristol-Myers Squibb (2%) 109687 (2667)
Threshold Pharmaceuticals (2%) 269 (6)
Bellicum Pharmaceuticals (2%) 657 (13)
Infinity Pharmaceuticals (2%) 599 (13)
Merrimack Pharmaceuticals (2%) 1282 (25)

Bristol's losses, however, were nothing compared with Puma's, which was pummelled even in the lead up to Asco as more doubts arose about breast cancer project neratinib, thanks to its unpleasant side effect of severe diarrhoea. The group has taken great pains to emphasise that this can be controlled with prophylactic loperamide, but even that has done little to satisfy investors who punished the California-based company over two trading days.

Neratinib's defects were magnified by the performance of Oncothyreon’s Her-2 inhibitor ONT-380, which demonstrated a low rate of serious diarrhoea in a similar set of metastatic breast cancer patients. Oncothyreon rose an incredible 166% during Asco, winning it the title of conference darling.

Taking the unwanted crown of biggest loser was Calithera Bioscienes for no immediately discernible reason. The release of data on lead project CB-839 at Asco was likely the trigger many bio run-up traders were waiting for to exit due to the company's rather modest performance since its IPO in October.

Winners

Beyond Oncothyreon there were a number of big gainers, some on surprising data and some just posting good performances in otherwise overlooked products.

Ignyta made headlines earlier this year when it bought Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ oncology projects, and at Asco impressed again with data. “Preliminary but promising” results from two small phase I trials of targeted drug entrectinib were enough to send Ignyta’s share price up 78% over the Asco period. The firm can now go into phase II with a recommended dose and proof of clinical activity in its target population.

Top 15 gains – ranked on % change in share price from May 13 to June 2 
Share price Market cap ($m)
Company % change At close June 2 Change
Oncothyreon 166% 403 252
Aveo Oncology 88% 131 62
Vascular Biogenics 81% 147 66
Ignyta 78% 400 176
ImmunoGen 54% 1209 423
Affimed Therapeutics 45% 312 97
Cellectis 34% 1470 372
OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals 27% 53 (3)
arGEN-X 24% 199 38
Juno Therapeutics 23% 5143 950
CTI BioPharma 21% 381 66
Curis 16% 449 61
NewLink Genetics 14% 1250 155
Scancell 13% 116 12
Halozyme Therapeutics 11% 2289 220

The originator of Kadcyla, ImmunoGen has little to prove. But it found new life during Asco when it climbed 54% on the release of positive phase I data with its antibody conjugate IMGN853 in platinum-resistant ovarian cancer. However, the company may have to watch out for side-effects, with around half of patients receiving the drug reporting blurred vision.

The hype over CAR-T therapies seems to have benefited only Cellectis and Juno Therapeutics around Asco. Cellectis most likely rose over rumours that Pfizer is preparing a bid to buy it than a poster on its suicide switch. Juno climbed on phase I data indicating its T cells can invoke a 91% complete response rate in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

CTI Biopharma, meanwhile, took a step towards registration of pacritinib with positive phase III data in the blood cancer myelofibrosis. If approved, the drug is expected to be a key driver for the company, with sales of $332m forecast by 2020 – which no doubt helped CTI’s stock climb 21% during Asco.

As reported in March, the Persist-1 trial, comparing pacritinib with best available therapy, met its primary endpoint: significantly more patients in the pacritinib group reached the goal of spleen volume reduction of 35% or greater at 24 weeks. New findings reported at Asco included improvements in myelofibrosis-associated symptoms with pacritinib, a secondary endpoint.

The Persist-1 data, along with those from Persist-2, will support an application to the US FDA.

Given the explosive growth expected in cancer therapies, the period leading up to Asco abstracts through to the meeting’s end is one in which the entire sector trades up in expectation of major catalysts. A sell-off often follows as investors look for the next major trading opportunity – the Nasdaq biotechnology index has been flat since Asco began, suggesting that this behaviour is already well underway.

To contact the writers of this story contact Jonathan Gardner, Madeleine Armstrong or Edwin Elmhirst in London at news@epvantage.com or follow @EPVantage on Twitter

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