GlaxoSmithKline’s announcement that it is to launch five new cancer drugs by 2010 has not been greeted with as much enthusiasm by the investment community as the UK-based drugs giant would have hoped for.

The five, which were announced at a meeting for investors and analysts in London. are the cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix, pazopanib for renal cell carcinoma, Revolade/Promacta (eltrombopag) for idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura, the anti-emetic Rezonic (casopitant) and HuMax-CD20 (ofatumumab), the antibody being developed with Denmark’s Genmab for the treatment of follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

In a conference call before the meeting, GSK's chairman of R&D, Moncef Slaoui, said that delivering five new oncology treatments in three years is “an unprecedented objective for a pharmaceutical company”. Much of the data that the firm referred to in the seminar had already been presented at the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago but there was some new research offered up.

New Phase III data was presented for Rezonic, an anti-emetic medicine currently being developed to prevent both post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. The company noted that 40%-50% of patients still experience nausea and vomiting despite the availability of current anti-emetic medicines and the data presented demonstrated that Rezonic when used in combination with GSK’s older nausea drug Zofran (ondansetron), for treatment of PONV, delivers enhanced benefit over ondansetron alone.

Importantly, these data were seen in both intravenous and oral formulations of the treatment, supporting use of the product in both the hospital and outpatient setting. Clinical development of Rezonic continues with over 4,000 patients studied to date, GSK said, and it plans to file the drug for approval to treat both PONV and CINV in the first half of 2008.

Of the other treatments, GSK hopes to Cervarix on the market in Europe later this year, though a US launch is unlikely before 2008. Pazopanib, an anti-angiogenesis inhibitor has shown high clinical response rates in advanced or metastatic renal cell carcinoma and activity in invasive soft tissue sarcoma and aggressive ovarian cancer, while HuMax-CD20 possibly could be launched in 2008.

Of more interest in the short-term was GSK’s update on Tykerb (lapatinib), which was launched for breast cancer in the USA in March and Dr Saloui noted that 3,000 patients have been treated since launch. The company hopes it will be a potential competitor to Roche's big-selling Herceptin (trastuzumab) and recent data has shown that it has potential as a first-line treatment of metastatic breast cancer and trials on the value of combining Tykerb with Herceptin are due later this year.

Also of interest was the announcement that GSK plans to recruit the first patients into a Phase III trial of its MAGE-A3 vaccine for non-small-cell lung cancer in September. MAGE-A3 will compete with a similar product called Stimuvax from Merck KGaA’s Stimuvax which went into late-stage trials in February.

Analysts felt that GSK did not present any particularly exciting data but it is clear that the firm is determined to get a big share of the current oncology market which is valued at around £35 billion and is growing annually at 20%. Paolo Paoletti, senior vice president of GSK’s Oncology Medicine Development Centre, noted that with over 30 new specialists recently recruited to work in this area, “we will continue to invest in our oncology capability and vigorously pursue development of these new medicines for patients with cancer”.