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Two Kidney Cancer Drugs Show Promise in Separate Studies

Two drugs being tested for kidney cancer, including one from the hot field of immuno-oncology, proved superior in separate studies to a current standard treatment, setting the stage for new options for patients with an advanced stage of the disease.

In one of the studies, researchers said patients taking Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. BMY -2.52 % ’s Opdivo had a median survival of 25 months, 5.4 months longer than patients given a drug called Afinitor, marketed by Novartis AG NVS -0.53 % . The survival advantage was observed during an interim safety check in July, which prompted a halt to the study because of the significant benefit.

In the second study, a drug called cabozantinib from Exelixis Inc. EXEL -4.68 % kept kidney cancer in check for 7.4 months before it got worse compared with 3.8 months for Afinitor, a 42% reduction in the rate of disease progression. There was a trend toward improved survival, but researchers indicated longer follow-up is needed to determine what the advantage is.

The benefit from both treatments compared with Afinitor “is unequivocal,” according to an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, where both studies were published. The findings were also presented Friday at the European Cancer Congress in...