by Andrew Allen
Sanofi Aventis (SNY) is about to begin testing a drug aimed at the treatment of liver cancer. The compound that Sanofi is inventing is one that has never been seen before. It is essentially a novelty. The idea behind it is that it will starve liver cancer cells and thereby kill the cancer. The trial will begin next year and will be held in China, and perhaps in Korea as well. The compound is known as "slit-trap."
This is a very interesting step for Sanofi. If it is successful in introducing this new compound and if the compound proves to be effective in the treatment of cancer, the company will really succeed in making a mark for itself. This could mean really great things for Sanofi. Of course, investors may have to wait a long time to see the final results of the trial. The question now is whether or not to buy into Sanofi at this stage and hope that everything works out well for the company in the near future.
At the moment, the drug is still in the preclinical stage and it will only enter into the next stage next year. At this point the drug is considered safe for testing on people. Thus the next phase of testing will begin as early as 2013.
The cancer drug will be specifically aimed at patients who have a very specific form of cancer. The form of cancer that these patients have is caused by "high levels of a protein called slit, which nourishes the tumor and helps it spread to other parts of the body." The drug that Sanofi is developing is aimed at blocking the slit. And in the long run this will quite literally starve the liver cancer to death. Things are still very much in the developmental stage at this point, as the company is still in the process of finding ways to identify patients that will benefit most from a treatment such as this one.
Investors with a bit of knowledge about medicine may wonder why this is such a significant discovery. Liver cancer is not particularly prevalent in the West, after all. However, it is extremely prevalent in Asian countries, and Asian countries make up a huge portion of the world's population and thus pharmaceutical consumers. The high incidence of liver cancer is correlated with the high incidence of hepatitis B in countries like China. In fact, in China as much as 10% of the population has this form of hepatitis. This leads to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer later in life in some cases.
This being said, Sanofi does not actually know how many people in China will respond to the new drug that it would like to develop. So, even if the drug is successful, it will not make much of a difference to the company if it only treats a minority of the people it is aimed at treating. Hopefully the treatment will be widely applicable in China. If the 10% of people with liver cancer all respond to the treatment, it will mean a big payday for Sanofi. China is only an emerging market for the company and accounts for only 5% of sales. However, it is a market that is growing faster than any other, which has positive connotations for the future.
Sanofi may be facing some significant competition in times to come from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). This company will soon announce the results of a diabetes drug that it has been working on with Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) that could be a serious competitor to a similar drug that Sanofi currently has in the pipeline. If the drug is approved Sanofi, as well as Amylin Pharmaceuticals (AMLN), and Eli Lilly (LLY), may also suffer. If GlaxoSmithKline successfully uses this opportunity to get a head of the game it will be one of the more important stocks to keep an eye on.
Competitor Eli Lilly is well ahead of the game in terms of the development of new drugs. Recently the company announced, in partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, that Phase III trials for a drug aimed specifically at lowering the blood sugar level of African-American patients with type 2 diabetes, has shown to be both safe and effective. The study was conducted to give African-Americans, previously significantly underrepresented in clinical trials for diabetes medication, an alternative option aimed at their specific well-being. The development of new drugs is what we look for in a pharmaceutical stock, so Eli Lilly may be a good option to back.
Pfizer (PFE) and Bristol Meyers Squibb (BMY) are working together on a drug called Eliquis that will be used, if it is approved, for stroke prevention. To top it off, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), which was working on a rival drug Xarelto, was recently denied approval for its drug by an FDA advisory board. It seems to me that Pfizer and Bristol Meyers Squibb will now be able to continue developing their drug without the worry of competition.
AstraZeneca (AZN) seems to have the right idea about how to move forward in the drug industry. This company is working hard toward finding a way of identifying the effects that drugs will have on your liver. This is in response to the growing problem of drug-induced liver injuries. Many times these injuries only become apparent once the drug has been on the market for a while. It is very important that an attempt is made to minimize these effects and AstraZeneca is one of the few companies that seems willing to look for one.
Sanofi's drug could be a game changer, especially if it catches on in the foreign markets. You'll want to wait for more word on approval and testing results, but it could be a stock poised for great success if the drug gets out and gets popular.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.