I was away for the Memorial Day weekend last Friday and hence missed the big news in oncology that Johnson and Johnson were purchasing Cougar Biotechnology for $1 billion.  Note the whole company, not just a licensing deal for the promising prostate cancer compound, abiraterone.

Wow.

The data hasn't even been announced at ASCO yet, that's this weekend coming, so one can only speculate that suitors got a sneak peek of the data under an NDA.  A billion dollars certainly gets attention and raises the ante for future small oncology biotech deals.

Just now, Cancer Research UK tweeted about the new data:

 New data on Abiraterone in prostate cancer

Twitter is rapidly becoming my real time alert system for accurate competitive intelligence.  You can read more about CRUK's perspective HERE, but essentially the data tells us the following:

"Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden Hospital
tested the drug on 54 men with aggressive, advanced prostate cancer. In
most cases, the cancer had spread around the body, causing many of them
discomfort and pain.  The men were given abiraterone daily and, twelve weeks later, were given a PSA test and a CT scan to see if the drug had worked.  The scientists found that abiraterone worked for around two-thirds
of the men on the trial, lowering their PSA levels, causing the tumours
to shrink and relieving pain. It wasn’t a permanent cure, as the
effects only lasted an average of 8 months.
  But, interestingly, for men who carried a faulty version of a gene called ERG, the effects lasted much longer – up to 18 months.

This may not sound like long, but it’s certainly a significant
improvement on what might be expected for men with such advanced cancer."

Regular readers of Pharma Strategy Blog will know that this is one compound I'm quite excited about.  The abiraterone data has been consistent and appears to have fewer toxic side effects compared to standard of care chemotherapy, Taxotere plus prednisone, which can induce severe myelosuppression in many patients.

What was particularly interesting about the new data is that patients with the mutated ERG gene appeared to do better on abiraterone than those without.  That's a potentially interesting biomarker to look out for because linking a specific biomarker with therapy for patients most likely to benefit from the treatment is increasingly the way to go in oncology.  Now, I'm not sure how many prostate cancer patients might have the mutated ERG gene, so will have to research it unless anyone out there knows?

{UPDATE: Thanks to Twitter and Martin Fenner, it appears that the TMPRSS2:ERG fusion is present in approximately 50% of localized prostate cancers according to this paper}.


Hopefully, there will be more information available at ASCO next week, so watch this space.

rb2 large gray New data on Abiraterone in prostate cancerAttard, G., Reid, A., A'Hern, R., Parker, C., Oommen, N., Folkerd, E., Messiou, C., Molife, L., Maier, G., Thompson, E., Olmos, D., Sinha, R., Lee, G., Dowsett, M., Kaye, S., Dearnaley, D., Kheoh, T., Molina, A., & de Bono, J. (2009). Selective Inhibition of CYP17 With Abiraterone Acetate Is Highly Active in the Treatment of Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2008.20.0642

 New data on Abiraterone in prostate cancer