Pfizer plots path outside melanoma in effort to gain ground in immuno-oncology: report

Pfizer's head of R&D Mikael Dolsten said the company will focus on tumour types other than melanoma for its experimental immuno-oncology therapies, as it looks to make headway on Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck & Co., Bloomberg reported Thursday. The executive noted that melanoma, where Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo (nivolumab) and Merck's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) were approved last year by the FDA, "itself is not that large of an opportunity."

Specifically, Pfizer plans to focus on kidney, lung, head and neck and bladder cancers using the investigational anti-PD-L1 antibody MSB0010718C it gained via a recent licensing agreement with Merck KGaA (for related analysis, see ViewPoints: Indispensible nature of immuno-oncology showcased by Pfizer's mega-deal). In addition, Pfizer will use other compounds from the alliance and its own experimental products, whilst also testing therapies that target other immune system components. "We could leapfrog this year by planning up to six pivotal studies," Dolsten predicted.

Dolsten stated that long term, the field will be defined by the next round of investigational immune system-based products, noting that the compounds could be used in combination with other cancer drugs. "You will see, over a couple of years, the momentum shift to those companies that have a breadth of opportunity," Dolsten remarked, adding "that's our aim, to be a company that can take part in a share of the first wave, and be among the two or three leaders in the second wave."

Analysts at Leerink Partners estimate that the immuno-oncology market could be worth $40 billion or more annually in the next 10 years.

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