Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

Many readers will have noticed that the advanced prostate cancer market is rapidly becoming crowded with three new therapies (cabazitaxel, sipuleucel-T and abiraterone) already approved and several more in late stage development, including Alpharadin (radium-223) and MDV3100, both likely to file this year. In addition, others are focused on bone complications, such as denosumab, which is expected to have a tough ODAC meeting this month, and cabozantinib, a multikinase inhibitor currently in phase III trials.

Unlike breast cancer, where progression-free survival (PFS) is a used as a surrogate measure of survival, in advanced prostate cancer, overall survival (OS) has pretty much become the gold standard by which prostate cancer trials are reviewed. This makes it much easier to judge whether the drugs are having a positive effect on true efficacy, i.e. do patients live longer as a result of treatment.  PFS is particularly difficult to measure in prostate cancer, so it’s not surprising this approach has evolved as the standard measurement.

Interestingly though, Health Authority approval does not always mean reimbursement coverage, as NICE showed yesterday in declining to approve abiraterone in the UK on the grounds that it is too expensive. The BBC quoted a patient who had been on abiraterone for only three months, with a positive impact:

“I have my life back. I have a lot more energy and no pain. My quality of life is excellent. I wouldn’t even know I have cancer now, it’s that good.”

The BBC also quoted his wife, who had an excellent point:

“We know NICE has to take a lot of things into consideration, but when you have a terminal illness an extra four months is very precious.”

Source: BBC

Of course, it’s very much a case of balancing available resources with potential benefits and unfortunately, advanced stage patients will inevitably take the lion’s share in terms of budget for disease management. Post EMA approval, some local UK health providers permitted the drug to be used on an individual basis, raising the old contentious issue of the rather unfair post code lottery (zip code for Americans).

Going forward, no doubt there will be much political posturing and pressure, as you can see from Cancer Research UK, who helped fund the research, but hopefully a deal can still be struck between NICE and Janssen, the manufacturer, on price to enable British men broader access to the drug.

One of the things that has struck me lately, though, is how prostate cancer is attracting serious research focus, such that a heterogeneous disease is slowly being more segmented based on the underlying biology of the tumour. Examples include Arul Chinnaiyan’s superb work on the TMPRSS2-ERG fusion gene and Charles Sawyers’ work on the Androgen Receptor.

Thanks to Sawyers work we now know that the old terminolgy ‘androgen independent’ prostate cancer is an incorrect way of descibing advanced disease because as Clegg et al., (2012) described Scher et al’s original research findings in 2005:

“Despite administration of androgen-depleting therapies, continued androgen receptor (AR) signaling is a common feature of CRPC, attributed to AR gene-amplification, AR gene mutation, increased AR expression or increased androgen biosynthesis in prostate tumors.”

In other words, the AR is very much an oncogenic driver of the tumour’s survival.

This week, we saw promising data for MDV3100, an AR antagonist in the post chemotherapy setting but what of the pipeline beyond abiraterone and MDV3100?

Previously, we came across Aragon’s ARN-509 AR antagonist, which is much further behind in phase I/II clinical trials. Sawyers and Michael Jung, the co-inventors of MDV3100 while at UCLA also developed (along with several other scientists) additional AR compounds, the most promising of which became ARN-509. Aragon is a privately held company formed out of the UCLA discovery with the intent of developing and commercialising this compound.

The obvious question arises – is it a ‘me-too’ or potentially better than MDV3100?

Preclinical data has just been published in Cancer Research by Clegg et al., (2012) addressing this issue. They argued that, based on their findings:

“In a clinically valid murine xenograft model of human CRPC, ARN-509 showed greater efficacy than MDV3100.”

Of course, preclinical data doesn’t always translate to the clinical setting, but my first reaction was ‘Whoa!’

Let’s take a look at the agent in more detail.  ARN-509, like MDV3100, is a pure antagonist of the androgen receptor, unlike bicalutamide (Casodex), which has both agonist and antagonist properties.  The idea behind this is that there will be less resistance and greater therapeutic potential for more comprehensive binding with the receptor.

We know from work in Sawyers lab that MDV3100 targets splice variants, which have been shown to cause resistance in CRPC, but we don’t yet know how ARN-509 will fare on that front.

So why did Clegg et al., (2012) suggest that ARN-509 might be superior to MDV3100?

“Maximal therapeutic response in this model was achieved at 30 mg/kg/day of ARN-509, whereas the same response required 100 mg/kg/day of MDV3100 and higher steady-state plasma concentrations.

Thus, ARN-509 exhibits characteristics predicting a higher therapeutic index with a greater potential to reach maximally efficacious doses in man than current AR antagonists.”

In other words, it’s much more potent and has a greater therapeutic index; these things are important clinically. It also has a longer half-life:

“ARN-509 exhibits low systemic clearance, high oral bioavailability and long plasma half-life in both mouse and dog, supporting once-daily oral dosing.”

Androgen deprivation therapies are more commonly used in castrate-sensitive disease, so this begs the question of whether there is anti-androgenic activity in the non-castrate setting:

“At higher doses of 30 mg/kg/day, robust tumor-regression (>50% reduction in starting tumor volume) was observed in 6/8 ARN-509-treated animals, similar to regressions observed in mice castrated on the day treatment initiated.”

The promising results led the researchers to conclude that:

“ARN-509 is a next generation anti-androgen selected for pre-clinical and clinical development based on its efficacy and pharmacodynamic profile in mouse xenograft models of CRPC.”

They also stated that:

“Unexpectedly, given a similar in vitro profile, ARN-509 is more efficacious per unit dose- and per unit steady-state plasma-level in mouse models of CRPC than MDV3100.”

In other words, ARN-509 is a next generation AR antagonist with a good efficacy and PK profile in mouse xenograft models of CRPC.  It’s clinical development, although further behind abiraterone and MDV3100, will be well worth watching over the next few years.

In summary…

While there has been a lot of activity in the advanced prostate cancer market lately with new approvals making a difference to the lives of men with prostate cancer, there are also several other promising near term agents in development, as well as some potentially more potent and effective treatments in early clinical development.  What we have seen to date is merely the beginning of new advances in R&D.

The early and advanced prostate cancer markets are likely to see some significant changes over the next 24 months, as new products based on rational drug design and an improved understanding of the biology of the disease make it to market.

More on prostate cancer coming soon!

All this new data is very timely, considering on Monday I’m off to the AACR Special Conference on Prostate Cancer, jointly chaired by Drs Chinnaiyan and Sawyers.  I’ll be interested to learn what new events are emerging as biological targets and what factors can help us predict response to treatment.  If you’re going to this meeting do stop and say hello, it’s always good to meet new people in the field.


Clegg, N., Wongvipat, J., Tran, C., Ouk, S., Dilhas, A., Joseph, J., Chen, Y., Grillot, K., Bischoff, E., Cai, L., Aparicio, A., Dorow, S., Arora, V., Shao, G., Qian, J., Zhao, H., Yang, G., Cao, C., Sensintaffar, J., Wasielewska, T., Herbert, M., Bonnefous, C., Darimont, B., Scher, H., Smith-Jones, P., Klang, M., Smith, N., de Stanchina, E., Wu, N., Ouerfelli, O., Rix, P., Heyman, R., Jung, M., Sawyers, C., & Hager, J. (2012). ARN-509: a novel anti-androgen for prostate cancer treatment. Cancer Research DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-11-3948

Scher, H. (2005). Biology of Progressive, Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer: Directed Therapies Targeting the Androgen-Receptor Signaling Axis Journal of Clinical Oncology, 23 (32), 8253-8261 DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2005.03.4777

3 Responses to “Is ARN-509 (Aragon) potentially better than MDV-3100 (Medivation) in advanced prostate cancer?”

  1. Mguiltinan

    We may never find out if ARN-509 is better than MDV3100. Their P1-2 trial is 18 months old yet still recruiting patients. The PC field has recently been flooded with drug candidates and its going to be difficult to run a P3 with a drug that is similar to MDV3100. Especially so for Aragon which doesn’t have the cash on hand to do a P3 on its own. A more serious complication for Aragon is that Medivation thinks that ARN-509 is one of the 200 molecules they licensed from UCLA and that lawsuit may keep potential pharmas from partnering ARN-509. That lawsuit is still a few years away from starting.  

    • maverickny

      It would be a shame if it was too late to find out if one is better than the other, but I agree with your points as the market gets crowded, it may well be too late. Once drugs are approved it is hard to justify a phase III trial with placebo for the follow-on compounds – eventually a head to head is needed or a trial in refractory patients. Unfortunately, that starts shrinking the available pool quite dramatically.  I was aware of the lawsuit, but decided to focus on the science as I think that is worthy of discussion.  It is a potential barrier for Aragon though and I’m not sure what UCLA’s licensing group were doing there.  This kind of IP spat just gets very messy indeed and puts potential partners off until it is resolved.   

      • Salmotruttafario

         Although the industry will want a “me-too” if MDV cleans up on the market. Move this into early PCa and we might see a “Glivec” moment when they realise that an exquisitely targeted approach delays progression and the problems of bone-mets etc. Maybe :) Pity that AZ have dumped the prostate franchise before these came out of the woodwork.

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