Amgen’s (AMGN) research and development strategy has a special focus on immuno-oncology, a branch of oncology or cancer therapies. According to the European Cancer Patient Coalition, “Immuno-oncology therapies activate our immune system, making it able to recognize cancer cells and destroy them.” In addition to the immune-oncology drug Blincyto, launched in December 2014, Amgen is developing a drug called talimogene laherparepvec for metastatic melanoma.
According to WebMd, “Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. When it spreads to other places in your body, it’s called metastatic, or advanced, melanoma.” The above diagram shows that about 25% of metastatic melanoma patients can be treated by talimogene laherparepvec.
Talimogene laherparepvec is the first investigational oncolytic immunotherapy. Oncolytic immunotherapy is an innovative cancer therapy in which selective viruses are injected in the melanoma lesions. These viruses are genetically engineered to enhance their selectivity for cancer cells as well as anticancer activity.
The viruses selectively replicate in the cancer cell, leading to lysis, or breaking of the cell membrane. This, in turn, leads to the release of tumor-specific antigens and cytokines. The immune system can then identify other tumor cells with matching antigens present in the body and further destroy these cells. To learn more about oncology therapies, please refer “Key Therapies for Cancer Will Determine Biotechnology’s Profits.”
Amgen has submitted talimogene laherparepvec for approval in the US and the European Union. The results of Food and Drug Administration and global regulatory reviews will be reported on October 27, 2015. The drug is also being further reviewed in combination with various compounds for head and neck cancer. Amgen is focused on commercializing talimogene laherparepvec by targeting 200 US academic institutions.
Amgen has also produced drugs such as rilotumumab and AMG 337 for gastric cancer, trebananib for ovarian cancer, and AMG 232 for solid tumors. In tandem with talimogene laherparepvec, these drugs will further strengthen Amgen’s oncology portfolio. Other biotechnology companies such as Gilead Sciences (GILD), Celgene (CELG), and Biogen (BIIB) are also exploring innovative drugs to satisfy unmet demand in the $100 billion oncology market.
Investors can get diversified exposure to Amgen’s innovative oncology drugs, yet avoid unique company risks, by investing in the iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology ETF (IBB). IBB invests 8.53% of its total holdings in Amgen.