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Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY), Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK), Sanofi SA (ADR) (SNY): Positive News for This Troubled Pharma Player

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Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) recently rose nearly 3% following positive phase 3 results for cancer drug necitumumab. The company had previously halted a different necitumumab trial for safety issues. This positive bit of news was particularly welcome in the wake of Lilly’s late-stage pipeline crashes. And with two blockbuster drugs set to expire in the next year, Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) needs all the signs of strength it can muster.

Here’s what necitumumab’s results mean for Lilly’s overall health.

Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY)

Positive results rise from the ashes
The necitumumab announcement was more of a nibble than a meal for investors since Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY)’s holding back the full data for a meeting presentation next year.

But Lilly said that a combo therapy using necitumumab with two chemo drugs improved overall survival in patients with advanced squamous non-small-cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, better than chemo alone. NSCLC accounts for more than 80% of lung cancer cases and the squamous type for about 30% of those NSCLC cases.

Potential side effects included rashes and a lesser but more serious risk of blood clots. That’s still a much better safety profile than necitumumab turned up previously.

In 2011, Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) and then-partner Bristol-Myers Squibb announced the cancellation of a late-stage necitumumab trial for nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer. Safety concerns arose involving the possibility of blood clots. Bristol-Myers Squibb later dropped out of the partnership and returned full rights to Eli Lilly.

The nonsquamous trial was allowed to continue, and the late-stage results put Lilly on track for a regulatory filing in 2014.

Pipeline boost
All eyes are on Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY)’s pipeline right now thanks to the impending patent losses of $5 billion antidepressant Cymbalta this year and $1 billion osteoporosis drug Evista in 2014.   The diabetes projects have managed rather smooth forward momentum. But the recent past has featured late-stage cancellations of anticipated Alzheimer’s iand rheumatoid arthritisdrugs.

Analysts predict up to $1 billion in annual sales for necitumumab, which would replace the lost Evista earnings on its own. But the drug could help plug the holes even if sales fall short. The simple fact remains that Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY)’s losing two of its top 10 drugs soon. And it can use any help that comes along.

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