Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

This week kicked off with some interesting emails and alerts in my inbox.

image from You may well be wondering what on earth rheumatoid arthritis and colorectal cancer have in common.  The answer is that yet more agents in development have bitten the dust.

Firstly, it seems that Roche and Biogen Idec have announced that they are suspending the development of their humanised anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody, ocrelizumab, for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Lupus. 

This follows a recommendation of the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) based on their assessment of the studies in RA. The review detected an infection related safety signal which included serious and opportunistic infections, some of which were fatal.

According to the Roche press release:

"As previously announced, the FILM study in MTX-naïve RA patients was placed on clinical hold following an assessment of benefit to risk in this specific RA patient population.  In addition, the BELONG study in lupus nephritis patients was previously halted due to serious and opportunistic infection signals."

The trials in multiple sclerosis appear to be ongoing.  Their other CD20 antibody, rituximab, has been on the market for several years for the treatment of cancers such as non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL) and more recently, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).  There have been no safety issues with this product.

Oddly, the second agent that flopped today went up against Roche's Avastin and was found to fall short of the required hurdle in a large phase III trial.  AstraZeneca's cediranib (Recentin), is a oral small molecule VEGF inhibitor that was being evaluated for the treatment of colorectal cancer (CRC).

According to AstraZeneca's press release this morning:

"This study, HORIZON III, assessed the efficacy of cediranib compared with bevacizumab, both in combination with chemotherapy.  Clinical activity was observed in the cediranib arm of the study and there was no statistically significant difference between treatment arms on the efficacy endpoints examined.  However, the efficacy did not meet the pre-specified criteria for the primary endpoint of non-inferiority in progression-free survival."


However, these results are not entirely surprising given the previous failure of Novartis' vatalanib in CRC, another small molecule inhibitor, in phase III trials for colorectal cancer.  There may well be some quirk in the mechanism of action in colorectal cancer that preferentially allows monoclonal antibodies to work more effectively than small molecules.  The half life, dosing schedules or inhibiting the ligand differently could all play a crucial part in the process.

For AstraZeneca, though, their run of bad luck in oncology continues with Iressa, Zactima and now Recentin all struggling to make a major impact.

Photo Credit: Kiragon

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