Millennium, After Takeda Takeover, Shows Off Cancer Drug Pipeline

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This is a proteasome inhibitor, like Velcade, except that it has been designed to be safer and have better absorption characteristics.It also might work against solid tumors as well as blood cancers like myeloma, and is given orally, instead of intravenously. This candidate is still in animal testing, but Millennium sees this as the logical extension when the Velcade patents expire in 2017 in the U.S., and 2019 in Europe and Japan, Dunsire said.

—MLN-8237. This drug is made to interfere with the cell cycle, by blocking the Aurora A kinase. Nancy Simonian, the company’s chief medical officer, shared an anecdotal case from early clinical studies in which a 52-year-old woman with a relapsed form of ovarian cancer had a partial response when taking this drug by itself—and it also appears to work well in tandem with standard chemotherapies. Many other companies are pursuing drugs to block forms of Aurora kinase, yet Simonian said, “this drug has an opportunity to be first-in-class.” It is expected to enter mid-stage trials this year.

—MLN-4924. This drug blocks a target called Nedd8 activating enzyme, a novel target discovered by Millennium scientists. This small-molecule drug is supposed to block pathways that are critical to cancer cell growth and survival. It is currently in early-stage clinical trials for solid tumors and blood cancers, and is expected to enter the second of three phases of clinical testing this year, Simonian said.

How much all of this is costing Takeda is a mystery, since executives ducked that question from one financial analyst, at least according to the English translation I heard on the call. Some of these questions were of the left-field variety that you wouldn’t expect from biotech analysts in the U.S., like whether Dunsire has a relationship with the incoming FDA commissioner. (She doesn’t, and patiently explained that doesn’t really matter, because the company deals mainly with staff in the oncology division.)

One question I did hear loud and clear was whether Dunsire would like to become the CEO of Takeda someday. “My Japanese would have to improve a lot,” she said, leaving it at that, as the room filled with laughter.

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