Since I last wrote about Imclone, the stock has had a rather difficult time. That's largely the fault of the Imclone fan club: Erbitux sales have exceeded some of the responsible projections, but still haven't caught up with the fantasies of some of the stockholders.
And now comes a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (about as high-profile a place as you can publish this kind of thing) confirming that Erbitux does shows activity in late-stage colon cancer, when added to the standard irinotecan therapy. Good news, eh? But in the end, the publication may do as much harm as good to Erbitux's prospects, because the same issue has a rather sceptical editorial comment on the study, and a longer perspective piece on the costs of such treatments in general. (Full text isn't available to nonsubscribers - the beginning of the editorial is here and the beginning of the Perspective is here. I'm going to cover that one in the next post for Monday; it makes this one too long and unwieldy when they're combined.)
The editorial, from two physicians at the Mayo Clinic, isn't kind. It's enough to make you wonder why they accepted the study for publication in the first place: ". . .the findings clearly support the notion that interfering with EGFR signaling can overcome the resistance to irinotecan. Nevertheless, the appropriateness of the authors' reporting methods warrants discussion." They point out that the trial was statistically underpowered to detect some clinically meaningful differences, and question whether the reported response rate can justify using Erbitux as a monotherapy. The authors attempted to test the patients for EGFR expression, but it's unclear if they did this in the right way (it's not as simple as you'd think.)
Even if you take the statistics as they are, Erbitux added less than two months to the lives of patients, on average, compared to the current standard of care. The authors' verdict: there may well be clinical settings or treatment regimens where Erbitux is more useful in such colon cancer patients, but we don't know what they are yet. The addition of Erbitux to the list of treatments, they say, "must be tempered by the small advances that it offers in terms of the time to progression and the response rate and its uncertain effects on survival. . ." Not to mention the cost, which we'll take up in the next post.
In light of all this, I'd like to take a moment to address the Imclone-boosting stock cult, those few of them who might have read this far, anyway. Get out. Take the money and run. The alarm bell has sounded, and more than once. If you bought Imclone when it was in the dumper, you've had a great run. Celebrate and cash in! But if you bought it when I was ranting on the subject back in late June, you're in the red, and I fear that it's going to be even worse in the long run. Flee!