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Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Dendreon Corporation (DNDN) – Tackling Cancer: Prostate Cancer’s Biggest Current and Upcoming Players

As I commented last week, cancer statistics are both staggering and disappointing. Although cancer deaths per 100,000 people have been on the downswing since 1991 thanks to access to more effective medications and better awareness about the negative health effects of smoking, there is still a lot of research and progress yet to achieve. My focus in this 12-week series is to bring to light both the need for continued research in these fields, as well as highlight ways you can profit from the biggest current and upcoming players in each field.

The skinny on prostate cancer
To start off, we’re going to take a look at prostate cancer, the cancer most expected to be diagnosed in 2013, with 238,590 projected cases, according to the National Cancer Institute. Considering that prostate cancer is expected to be attributed to 28% of all male cancer deaths this year, it’s an area of intense ongoing research.

So far we’ve seen incredible improvement in the underlying data, but we’re nowhere near the desired result as of yet. Data from the American Cancer Society (link opens PDF) demonstrates that better detection and medication has moved the five-year survival rate in the 1975-1977 time period from just 68% to a figure approaching 100% in the 2002-2008 period. Even long-term survival rates are strong based on the most recent data, with 10-year and 15-year survival rates of 98% and 93%, respectively. Understandably, there’s some margin of error to these figures, but it nonetheless shows marked improvement in detection and treatment of the disease.

Most cases of prostate cancer are caught in a localized, non-metastasized state, which makes it often more easily treatable than other cancers and leads to the increased survival rate figures that ACS has noted in recent years. Although there’s no specific one-size-fits-all treatment for prostate cancer, hormonal therapy, radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of these four treatments, is often used. In cases where smaller or less aggressive tumors are present, sometimes even a watch-and-wait approach is taken.

Let’s have a look at some of the biggest players in prostate cancer, as well as some of the upcoming therapies that could revolutionize treatment potential.

Where investment dollars are headed
The real investment dollars in prostate cancer are being spent on the advanced or metastatic stages of the disease where the patient has stopped responding to the first-line hormone and chemotherapy medications. Prior to 2004, only docetaxel had been shown to improve overall median survival in advanced stages of the disease; now metastatic-resistant prostate cancer suffers have hope in the following four medications:

  • Zytiga — Developed by Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Zytiga is an oral medication that was approved in April 2011 to be used in combination with prednisone as a second-line advanced prostate cancer treatment. The pill targets a protein that plays an important role in producing testosterone, a hormone shown to cause prostate cancer tumor growth. Zytiga practically eliminates all testosterone production and, therefore, slows prostate cancer growth dramatically. In clinical trials, the Zytiga/prednisone combination extended median overall survival to 14.8 months from 10.9 months for the placebo/prednisone combo. A few months following its approval, this median survival benefit was upped from 3.9 month to 4.6 months by Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). More recently, in December 2012, Zytiga was approved for earlier use (i.e., before chemotherapy has been administered) after a 1,088 patient study that showed chemotherapy-naive patients on Zytiga had a median survival time of five months longer than those on the placebo.

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