Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

It's only 3 weeks to go to the Annual ASCO meeting in Chicago so I thought it would be a good time to kick off the annual preview of key data.  One of the things that sets the tone of the meeting is which abstracts are in the plenary session.  Sometimes I don't attend the session if it looks arcane, but this year looks really interesting and worthwhile attending.

The selected abstracts comprise the following:

#LBA1: Phase III trial of bevacizumab (BEV) in the primary treatment of advanced epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), primary peritoneal cancer (PPC), or Fallopian tube cancer (FTC): A Gynecologic Oncology Group study.

#2: Weekly paclitaxel combined with monthly carboplatin versus single-agent therapy in patients age 70 to 89: IFCT-0501 randomized phase III study in advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

#3: Clinical activity of the oral ALK inhibitor, PF-02341066, in ALK-positive patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

#4: A phase III, randomized, double-blind, multicenter study comparing monotherapy with ipilimumab or gp100 peptide vaccine and the combination in patients with previously treated, unresectable stage III or IV melanoma.

Now, three of these trials promise some excitement.  The one I'm surprised about is the French Intergroup study looking at a taxane plus platinum in lung cancer.  In case anyone is wondering, the trial (link) states that:

"It thus seemed to us justified to compare a standard arm, the vinorelbine or the gemcitabine (with the choice of the center) in monotherapy with an experimental arm, association carboplatine + paclitaxel."

Carboplatin plus paclitaxel (with or without bevacizumab) is pretty much standard as first-line treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), so now we know that the doublet is likely more effective than single agent gemcitabine or navelbine in the elderly too, but for me all four are old drugs, likely available as generics and it's all an iteration of what we mostly know already.  I'm particularly interested in new and exciting agents that are coming through or new indications or more recent drugs as we see them expand their utility.

The results are no doubt important, but plenary important?  It could
have well led off an oral lung cancer session and received attention at
Best of ASCO perhaps, but for me, the plenary sessions should be
about groundbreaking new therapies or indications, which the other three
clearly are.

Still, the Korean study in ALK-positive people with NSCLC really gets my attention because we've only heard about a US study in the past, so seeing how this evolves Globally is vitally important.  Pfizer have done a nice job speeding this agent, PF-02341066 (crizotinib), through development having recognised the significance of the rearrangements and then invested significant resources to moving it forward.  They should be commended for that and I sincerely hope the results continue to be positive. 

What is also nice is that I've come across a few new ALK inhibitors at AACR and elsewhere that may work in patients where crivotinib stopped working, perhaps as a reult of new mutations.  This is an exciting area of research, even if it just affects a small subset of patients.  Cancer is a heterogeneous disease so researching and identifying different subtypes that can be then targeted with new therapeutics is critical.

After excitedly listening to the BMS R&D Day, I was expecting that ipilimumab might have a chance of a plenary with the melanoma data because the example they gave just took your breath away – this is what we all live for in cancer research – something that really makes a difference to the disease and makes you go, "oh wow!"  You can read more about that commentary hereRoche and Plexxikon also have a promising compound in development (PLX4032) that targets BRAF.  At Roche's R&D Day, they noted that they planned to present the phase II data later this year at a melanoma meeting.  That's how the timing rolls sometimes.

The bevacizumab (Avastin) data in ovarian cancer was previously announced by Roche earlier this year to be positive, so this is excellent news for women with ovarian cancer.  I really look forward to seeing the results in full.  What's particularly important about this trial is that it is the first positive phase III study of an anti-angiogenic therapy in advanced ovarian cancer.  I think Judah Folkman would be mightily pleased with the progress of angiogenesis inhibitors such as Avastin so far, if he could see them.  It's all too easy to forget the visionaries in research and focus on the results.

For some reason, ovarian cancer always seems to be the poor cousin to breast and lung cancers and regimens that work in either tend to dribble down to ovarian cancer years later, but all three share many similar regimens.

From tomorrow, I'll start an ASCO series taking a look at some of the bionic biotechs with interesting data and a review of some of the big cancers and the potentially interesting data that may be worth highlighting and checking out.

5 Responses to “ASCO 2010 Preview #1”

  1. Charles

    Great article but, just as a point of clarification, I understand Roche announced they plan to present data from their Phase II study with PLX4032 at a melanoma meeting later this year not the Phase III trial. First patient into the Phase III was Q1, 2010 so it will be a couple of years before we see anything from this larger trial.

  2. MaverickNY

    Sorry Charles, that was a careless rushed typo, thanks for pointing it out. I’ll correct it to phase II.

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