Bristol-Myers Falls Further Behind Merck in Lung Cancer Race

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Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. shares swooned after the drugmaker said it wouldn’t seek accelerated approval for a combination of two approved drugs to treat newly diagnosed lung cancers, falling further behind in its race with Merck & Co. in the field.

Bristol-Myers fell 9.4 percent to $51.50 at 9:45 a.m. in New York, its biggest intraday loss since October, while Merck & Co. gained 4.3 percent to $62.92. The U.K.’s AstraZeneca Plc, which is also testing lung-cancer treatments, slumped 3.4 percent in London.

Bristol-Myers, which has been testing Opdivo and Yervoy together as first-line therapy for lung cancer patients, said Thursday in a statement that it won’t “pursue an accelerated regulatory pathway” in the U.S. for the combination. Studies of the combined drugs will continue, the New York-based company said. 

Cowen and Co. analyst Steven Scala cut his rating on Bristol-Myers to market perform from outperform, saying that the decision adds risk to sales of Opdivo, the company’s top drug. 

While Bristol-Myers had been seeking to move the treatment to market quickly “an early filing is now off the table,” Scala said in a note to clients. “In tandem, the regulatory hurdle might be getting higher as competitors move forward.”

Merck and Bristol-Myers have been battling for dominance in the field of cancer immunotherapy, in which medicines are designed to boost the body’s own defenses against cancer. So far, Bristol-Myers’ data has disappointed in the setting of lung cancer, while Merck has pulled ahead with its drug Keytruda, which was approved in December for first-line treatment in one form of lung cancer.