Pfizer’s promising multikinase inhibitor agent Sutent (sunitinib) has been shown to be effective as a second-line treatment in patients with advanced gastric cancer.

The data, presented at the European Cancer Conference, also showed that the drug's side effects were "manageable.” Of 72 patients who received Sutent in the open-label trial, partial responses were seen in two and stable disease achieved in 17 patients. Median progression-free survival was 11.1 weeks, with overall survival of 47.7 weeks.

Pfizer last month reportedly revealed that a substantial 20% of its R&D budget is directed towards cancer treatments. A large proportion of this will be dedicated to Sutent, which is in a number of late-stage clinical trials for advanced colorectal, breast and non-small cell lung cancer both as a single agent and in combination with other therapies.

Indeed the company also presented positive data from two Phase I studies in hormone-refractory prostate cancer and advanced breast cancer at the ECC meeting. But whether this positive news will be enough to appease analysts and investors remains to be seen. Pfizer shares have fallen substantially as its pipeline comes under increasing scrutiny following a spate of patent expirations on top drugs.

Gastric cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer worldwide and has been linked to chronic infection with Helicobacter pylori. It is not normally diagnosed until it is at an advanced stage and has a poor prognosis, with five-year survival around 25%.