Reports indicate that the market for immuno-oncology drugs could grow to $25 billion in the next ten years. Pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (NYSE:BMY) and Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) are already angling for a share of the market with drugs that have already received the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“A lot of these drugs basically train the immune system to see the difference between a regular cell and a tumor cell, and use the immune system to fight the tumor off,” an analyst at Barclays, Geoff Meacham, said.
In addition to the treatments that have already been approved, numerous trials are being conducted by pharmaceutical firms such as Incyte Corporation (NASDAQ:INCY) and AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN) for drugs designed for the treatment of cancers of the neck, head, urothelial, bladder, and kidney. At present, the results are preliminary and nothing conclusive has been communicated.
With regards to the immuno-oncology treatments that are already in the market, their effect on the revenues has been significant. Yervoy and Opdivo from Bristol-Myers, for instance, brought in sales revenues totaling $1.57 billion. While the sales of Yervoy were flat, the growth of sales for Opdivo was 176% year-on-year. Keytruda, which is manufactured by Merck, saw sales rise to $483 million after experiencing a growth rate of 125% year-on-year. Both Opdivo and Keytruda are used for the treatment of melanoma but indications are that they can be used for the treatment of certain cancers such as neck, head and lung cancer.
When it comes to combinations of immuno-oncology treatments, Merck has the lead. Last month a supplemental filing by Merck was accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The filing was seeking to accelerate the approval of a combination treatment which would use Keytruda and chemo for the treatment of a particular kind of lung cancer. Bristol-Myers was also planning to unveil a combination treatment involving Yervoy and Opdivo but later disclosed it wouldn’t be seeking to accelerate its approval, a decision which is bound to give Merck space to entrench itself in the market.
On Friday, shares of Merck & Co Inc rose by 0.20% to close the day at $65.39.