Johnson & Johnson Widens Scope With Zytiga

Jordo is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Cancer drugs are key to success in the pharmaceutical industry, and thus far, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) appears to be one of the leaders in this domain with its new prostate cancer treatment.

Johnson & Johnson has introduced a pill called Zytiga, which has been "shown to double the time patients live without their condition getting worse." Although this is not a cure, it is a major breakthrough for patients suffering from prostate cancer, as it increases their level of comfort significantly.

The drug was initially approved as a hormone blocker to treat men with advanced prostate cancer. A new study, however, indicates that the drug may have another use. If it is given to men early in their treatment, it could have the effects I have already mentioned, increasing lifespan and preventing the cancer from worsening. It is not currently possible to speak of the long-term survival rates of patients who have taken the drug, as the study was only recently conducted. A long-term study is necessary to fully understand the implications of these findings. At this point, one can only go off of estimates based on cursory findings.

Independent monitors of the study recently stopped the proceedings. It was clear to them that men on the drug were improving in comparison to men on the placebo medication. Many of the men on the placebo died. Consequently, the monitors stepped in to allow all participants in the study to start taking Zytiga, as the drug clearly works. This drug could serve as a new option for men suffering from prostate cancer.

There are those that believe the trial should not have been stopped early. By stopping the trial early, it makes it far harder to determine a statistically significant survival rate. This had not been adequately demonstrated in the study, and by stopping the trials, it may never be properly shown. As a result, it may be difficult for Johnson & Johnson to claim that the drug increases survival. While this could have had a large positive effect on the company and the stock, it will be quite minor because of this early end to the trials.

Previous drugs were successful in blocking about 90% of the hormone. The remaining 10% is still enough to kill you though. This is one thing that makes Zytiga so special. In contrast to these drugs, Zytiga blocks "virtually all" of the hormone. Obviously, this means that it is the more effective treatment available at the time being.

These findings are also relevant when looking at studies that show that taking intermittent breaks from prostate cancer medications can shorten the lifespan of the men on the drugs. The main point of the study is that men who engage in intermittent therapy do worse than men who engage in continuous therapy for their prostate cancer. This is an important discovery, as it goes against the commonly-held belief that intermittent therapy is better. Men frequently opt for intermittent treatment because of the side effects of hormone therapy, which includes things like loss of libido. In this way, Johnson & Johnson's drug Zytiga could play a significant role. The new findings show that if it is used early in treatment and consistently after that, the drug can have many significant and positive effects for the patient.

Johnson & Johnson may make a splash in the pharmaceutical arena, or it may not. It all depends on whether there is enough evidence to support the new cancer drug's effectiveness in survival. For the time being, the remaining uncertainty will likely prevent the stock from having any major gains.

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) is one of the competitors that is involved in the race to fight cancer. It has recently come to light that there has been "a sharp escalation in the weapons race against cancer, with several high-tech approaches long dreamed of but not possible or successful until now." In particular, Pfizer is working on a drug that aims to treat and cure certain types of lymphoma and leukemia. These are the kinds of innovations that keep the stock ahead of its competitors. All can be forgiven in the light of a cure for cancer. As a result, I expect this stock to do well.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) has been less-than-fortunate with its new cancer drugs. Two of its new drugs have been shown to be less effective than older treatment methods. Bristol-Myers Squibb's new options are more expensive than those older methods as well. As a result, there are few reasons for consumers to purchase the newer offering. This could be a major setback in Bristol-Myers Squibb's efforts to be a significant presence in the pharmaceutical domain, at least as far as treatments for cancer are concerned. Further development and study may be the solution to the situation, but for the time being, I expect the stock to be falling.

A significant player in cancer treatment is Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS), which may soon overtake all competition. The company is working on cancer treatments for advanced breast cancer, chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, non-small cell lung cancer, metastatic breast cancer, NRAS-melanoma and other solid tumors. This could go a long way in helping the company recoup losses experienced when its blood-pressure treatment Diovan suddenly had to face generic competition. This is a stock that may not face large immediate gains, but I believe the company is in a good position, making Novartis a good stock in the long run.

Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) is in the process of developing a drug aimed at the treatment of liver cancer. If the drug turns out to be successful, this could be hugely beneficial to the company. In the future, it will be the companies that are successful at curing cancer that will lead the pharmaceutical industry. This may be just what Sanofi needs to become a significant player in this. The drug consists of a compound that has never before been seen, and the novelty of the drug may be what makes it successful. At the time, I do not expect this to have a huge impact on the stock, but this is certainly something for investors to watch closely.

Johnson & Johnson's new pill is important to the fight against prostate cancer, but its inability to finish its study may dampen the overall effect of this. Novartis seems to be the leader on cancer treatments, but investors in Johnson & Johnson should be pleased with its attempts to become a bigger player in the industry. Based on these recent news stories, the stock will likely see small-but-positive gains in the near future.

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