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June 5, 2012

Newer breast cancer drugs no better than less expensive chemotherapy

CHICAGO — Celgene's Abraxane and Bristol- Myers Squibb's Ixempra breast-cancer drugs worked no better at delaying tumor growth than a less-expensive chemotherapy that's been the backbone of treatment for 20 years.

Newly treated patients taking paclitaxel, a generic drug, lived a month longer than those given Abraxane, a modified form of the same medicine, and three months longer than those taking Ixempra, according to data reported Monday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago.

Abraxane and Ixempra cost between $4,000 and $5,000 a dose, according to their manufacturers. The price of paclitaxel varies though it is significantly less than the newer treatments, said Hope Rugo, a breast cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco and a study researcher. The price difference may prompt some doctors to reconsider Abraxane as an initial treatment in certain patients, said Shanu Modi, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

"As a global issue, it is difficult to justify using a more expensive drug if an equally active drug is available that costs less," Modi said in an interview. "This is not going to help Abraxane."

Abraxane is one of top-selling products sold by Summit, N.J.-based Celgene, with $386 million in sales last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ixempra generated $100 million in revenue for Bristol-Myers, based on New York.

Celgene has said it expects Abraxane sales of as much as $1.2 billion in 2015 as it expands its use in other tumors. The drugmaker paid $2.9 billion to acquire Abraxane's maker, Abraxis BioScience, in 2010. Abraxane's "nab" technology combines paclitaxel with the protein albumin, enabling the drug to be given at a higher dose and breach blood vessel walls more effectively, according to the company.

Greg Geissman, a Celgene spokesman, said the company couldn't comment on the study because it hadn't reviewed the full data yet. Bristol-Myers spokeswoman Sarah Koenig said the results from the study don't impact the indications for Ixempra.

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