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Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S. preceded only by heart disease.

The traditional cancer treatments include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. However, immunotherapy, gene therapy and other new novel therapies are being developed to improve, supplement or replace traditional cancer treatments with the target to reduce or remove cancerous growths.

According to a report by the American Cancer Society, almost 1.7 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2017, which creates significant need for effective cancer medication. It goes without saying that all big pharma companies are gearing up to develop and bring innovative cancer treatments to market as well as expand the labels of their marketed oncology drugs. These pharma/biotech giants have significant financial resources at their disposal and have even collaborated to pool their resources and technology.

Here we discuss four pharma giants, which possess the industry’s strongest oncology pipeline portfolios.

AstraZeneca (AZN - Free Report)

AstraZeneca is working on strengthening its oncology product portfolio and has several candidates in its pipeline. The company’s target is to launch at least six new oncology medicines between 2014 and 2020, including Lynparza, Tagrisso and Imfinzi, which are already approved and marketed.

An interesting candidate in the company’s immuno-oncology pipeline is Imfinzi (durvalumab) being evaluated for multiple cancers (either alone or in combination with other regimens), including phase III trials in combination with tremelimumab in first-line urothelial cancer, NSCLC, small cell lung cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) among others. Imfinzi was launched in the U.S. for the first indication – second line advanced bladder cancer - in May 2017.

Other phase III oncology candidates in AstraZeneca’s pipeline include acalabrutinib (blood cancers.), moxetumomab pasudotox (leukaemia), selumetinib (thyroid cancer) and savolitinib (kidney cancer).

Lynparza, presently marketed for advanced ovarian cancer, is also in different studies for a range of tumor types including breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers as well as earlier-line settings for ovarian cancer. Tagrisso is also being evaluated in earlier-line settings for lung cancer.

AstraZeneca carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

So far this year, AstraZeneca’s shares have moved up 10%, comparing unfavorably to a 12.3% increase for the large-cap pharma industry.

Pfizer (PFE - Free Report)

Pfizer’s newly approved immunotherapy, Bavencio, is being considered a significant top-line driver for this New York-based pharma giant.

Bavencio/avelumab received FDA approval for metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) in March 2017 and for advanced bladder cancer in May. Bavencio is under review in the EU for MCC with a decision expected in the third quarter of 2017. Pfizer is focusing on continuously growing and expanding Bavencio into new indications and markets globally.

Pfizer has also initiated avelumab double/triple combination studies for chemotherapy and targeted therapies and has 11 avelumab combination therapies with immuno-oncology agents under development.

Pfizer’s two other oncology candidates have also been approved by the FDA recently – Besponsa - for relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia in August and Mylotarg for new or relapsed CD33-positive acute myeloid leukemia in September. Other cancer candidates in Pfizer’s pipeline include talazoparib (advanced breast cancer) and dacomitinib (advanced NSCLC with EGFR activating mutations).

Pfizer is also aggressively working on expanding the labels of approved cancer drugs like Ibrance and Xalkori.

Pfizer also carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). So far this year, Pfizer’s shares have moved up 4.1%.

AbbVie (ABBV - Free Report)

AbbVie is working on expanding and accelerating its presence in oncology and building upon its growing position in hematological oncology

AbbVie’s Imbruvica, currently approved for several cancer indications, has multi-billion dollar potential and AbbVie is exploring the potential to expand Imbruvica’s label into solid tumors and autoimmune diseases. AbbVie is positioning Imbruvica as a “pipeline in a molecule” - the treatment is in several company-sponsored studies.

With the 2016 acquisition of cancer drugmaker, Stemcentrx AbbVie gained a late-stage candidate, rovalpituzumab tesirine or Rova-T, four additional early-stage compounds in solid tumor indications and a significant portfolio of pre-clinical assets. Rova-T is currently in registrational studies for small cell lung cancer (SCLC). A phase I, eight-arm "basket study" on Rova-T in neuroendocrine tumors is also ongoing. According to AbbVie, the candidate has blockbuster potential and could be launched in 2018. AbbVie intends to study the candidate for additional indications and estimates peak sales close to $5 billion.

AbbVie is also studying marketed cancer drug Venclyxto/Venclexta to expand the label to address the broader relapsed/refractory CLL patient population, expand into earlier lines of therapy, and broaden into other hematologic malignancies.

AbbVie also carries a Zacks Rank #3. So far this year, AbbVie’s shares have moved up 20.2%.

Bristol-Myers (BMY - Free Report)

Bristol-Myers PD-1 inhibitor, Opdivo, has been performing impressively while Bristol-Myers is working on expanding the label of Opdivo further, alone or in combination therapies with Yervoy and other anti-cancer agents.

Further, Bristol-Myers’ cancer portfolio includes multiple myeloma drug, Empliciti and leukemia drug, Sprycel, contributing to the top line. In addition, Bristol-Myers is evaluating other immune system pathways for the treatment of cancer. These pathways may help the company bring to market potentially transformational immunotherapies – in combination or as monotherapy – to help fight different types of cancers.

Bristol-Myers also carries a Zacks Rank #3. So far this year, Bristol-Myers’ shares have moved up 2.3%.

Others Not Far Behind

Merck (MRK - Free Report) is also conducting numerous studies to evaluate its highly successful anti-PD-1 therapy, Keytruda for more than 30 types of cancer in more than 550 studies, including more than 300 combination studies.

Roche (RHHBY - Free Report) dominates the breast cancer space with strong demand for its HER2 franchise drugs like Herceptin, Perjeta and Kadcyla. Apart from its strong breast cancer franchise, Roche’s oncology portfolio also boasts of lung cancer drugs like Avastin and Tarceva, immuno-oncology drugs like Tecentriq and newly approved multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus. Label expansion efforts are ongoing for all these cancer drugs.

Swiss drugmaker Novartis (NVS - Free Report) also boasts many experimental cancer drugs in its R&D pipeline including a couple of biosimilar versions of popular cancer drugs. Novartis' cancer pipeline was bolstered by the deal to buy most of Glaxo's (GSK - Free Report) oncology portfolio in 2014.

Lilly (LLY - Free Report) also laid out its oncology strategy at its Q2 call held in July, which involves building on key treatments like Cyramza, Lartruvo and abemaciclib as foundational agents while focusing on developing new standard-of-care changing therapies and combination regimens, including immuno-therapies.

Conclusion

Competition in the cancer market is fierce and not all pipeline candidates will be successful. However, pharma biggies have enough late-stage cancer programs in their portfolios and there are chances of quite a few rollouts in the coming years.

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