Bristol-Myers Partner Ono Drops as Cancer Drug Data Disappoint

Ono Pharmaceutical Co. shares dropped in Japan trading after its partner Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. released study results for its immune-based therapy Opdivo that fell short of already low expectations in a lung cancer trial that studied wider use of the drug.

The Osaka-based company dropped as much as 11 percent Tuesday, the most since August, before trading 8.6 percent lower at 9:34 a.m. local time. The Japanese stock market was closed Monday for a holiday.

In results presented Sunday at the European Society for Medical Oncology meeting in Copenhagen, Opdivo data showed it wasn’t superior to chemotherapy even in patients with high levels of a protein called PD-L1, which is thought to be a predictor of how well the immune-system drugs will work. The data came from a detailed analysis of the Checkmate-26 study, whose main findings were released in August.

The results were in stark contrast to the performance of Merck & Co.’s Keytruda in a similar group of patients. Keytruda reduced the risk of death or cancer progression by 50 percent in a study, giving Merck a head start on all of its competitors in the race for the best new immune therapy against lung tumors, the most common cancer in the world.

Merck’s entire trial was designed around people with high PD-L1 levels, while Bristol-Myers tried to reach a wider range of patients. Bristol-Myers had already announced in August that Opdivo didn’t help the broader group. Sunday’s results showed the treatment didn’t aid the narrower group either.

Bristol-Myers, which had already slumped 19 percent this year through Friday, dropped to the lowest level in two years in New York trading on Monday.

Opdivo was first approved in Japan in July 2014 for melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Ono has a royalty agreement with Bristol-Myers and rights to sell Opdivo in Japan and a few other regional markets.

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