CHICAGO (CNNMoney.com) -- Investors in some of the most promising cancer drug treatments - and the drug companies betting heavily on them - have heard plenty of good news out of the cancer industry's biggest annual conference, now taking place in Chicago.
Drug-company-sponsored studies focused on new medications for treating liver, kidney, head, and neck cancer that were all shown to extend survival rates by several months. Ovarian cancer and leukemia patients also got some encouraging news.
Separately, Genentech (Charts) released study findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) that could alleviate concerns about the heart failure risks for breast cancer patients taking its blockbuster drug Herceptin.
But not all research findings have been uplifting. ImClone (Charts) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (Charts, Fortune 500) disclosed Monday morning that their closely watched cancer drug, Erbitux, prolonged patients' survival by less than a month.
And, while followers of alternative treatments got a boost from studies showing the benefits of ginseng, flaxseed and arsenic, those banking on shark cartilage as a treatment of lung cancer came away disappointed.
It's early yet to know which cancer medications will ultimately be approved by the Federal Drug Administration for the treatments now being studied. Many drugs must undergo further tests before applications are submitted to regulators, which means it could many years before these drugs can be sold for the uses now in their research stage.
But for a drug industry facing mounting competition and intense pressure to keep their pipelines full, the latest results are a step in the right direction.
The ASCO conference ends Tuesday. Among the highlights:
- Results were mixed for Erbitux, the cancer treatment drug whose troubled history has made ImClone shares highly volatile. On Saturday, ImClone and Bristol-Myers said Erbitux prolonged the lives of patients with advanced head and neck cancer. (Read the full story here.) Two days later, however, the companies revealed that colorectal patients taking Erbitux don't live much longer than they would on chemotherapy alone. (Read the full story here.)
- Genentech came out with at least two promising studies. Investors and patients worried about Herceptin's heart failure risks, which are listed on the drug's label, were no doubt calmed by fresh data indicating that the risks don't rise over time. (Read the full story here.) Genentech also disclosed that its blockbuster drug, Avastin, boosts survival rates in kidney cancer patients when combined with two types of chemotherapy. (Read the full story here.)
- Pfizer (Charts, Fortune 500) also had reason to cheer. The drug giant's efforts to bolster its drug pipeline were helped by a recent study showing that thyroid cancer patients taking its experimental drug axitinib saw their tumors shrink by as much as two-thirds. (Read the story here.)
- Liver cancer patients could be looking at the most effective treatment yet in extending their lives, according to Bayer AG (Charts) and Onyx Pharmaceuticals (Charts). The companies said Monday that their kidney cancer drug Nexavar increases survival rates by nearly three months. (Read the full story here.)
- Bristol-Myers made headway in its bid to compete with Novartis' (Charts)s blockbuster treatment, Gleevec, for leukemia patients. Company researchers said Sprycel, a medication for chronic myeloid leukemia, was also effective in treating early-diagnosis leukemia patients. (Details here)
- A study of VGEF-Trap, an experimental ovarian cancer treatment developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (Charts) and Sanofi-Aventis, found the drug helped decrease the size of tumors. (Details here)
- Eli Lilly (Charts, Fortune 500) said it was encouraged by phase 2 trial results indicating that one of its experimental drugs blocks the spread of lung cancer. (Details here)
- With one key exception, the news on alternative treatments was auspicious. A three-year study of arsenic trioxide showed that leukemia patients who combine the toxin with standard chemotherapy could live longer. (Details here) The herb ginseng appears to help reduce patient fatigue, and flaxseed may slow the spread of prostate cancer. As for shark cartilage: While it's been marketed as a way to block the blood vessels that feed tumors, it had no effect in a recent study of lung cancer patients who took it while undergoing chemotherapy. (Read the full story on ginseng, flaxseed and shark cartilage here.)