There were hundreds of companies vying for the attention of 30,000 cancer specialists the past couple days at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Orlando, FL. Here’s a quick recap of highlights from New England companies that have presented data so far. The conference continues today and tomorrow.
—ImmunoGen: The Waltham, MA-based biotech (NASDAQ: IMGN) has developed technology to make a “souped-up” version of Genentech’s and Roche’s trastuzumab (Herceptin) for breast cancer. This product, called trastuzumab DM1 or TDM1, aims to make the original antibody drug more potent by attaching a tumor-killing toxin to it.
One out of four patients (25 percent) who got the experimental drug had partial or complete tumor shrinkage, according to a final analysis of the trial cited by ImmunoGen in a statement. That figure was impressive, because the trial involved patients whose cancer had spread and who had relapsed after taking the original Herceptin. More than half had also relapsed after taking a competing drug from GlaxoSmithKline, lapatinib (Tykerb). The most common severe side effects were lowered potassium levels, and lowered counts of platelet cells in the blood, although researchers didn’t see the heart damage that has been observed in other Herceptin trials.
A preliminary look in December at the data from 107 patients suggested this drug might be doing even better—with 40 percent showing partial or complete tumor shrinkage after taking the drug. One difference is that the final numbers on tumor shrinkage were judged by an independent review facility—not the treating physicians who might be inclined to see something positive that isn’t there.
Regardless, Genentech and Roche considered these results intriguing enough to begin a 580-patient global clinical trial last February to hopefully amass enough proof to bring TDM1 to the market.
—Antigenics: The Lexington, MA-based biotech company looked back in time at a clinical trial of its immunotherapy for kidney cancer, and found some evidence that it may be helping people live longer. This trial failed in its original goal of lowering the risk of cancer recurrence after kidney tumors were surgically removed, which is enough for many biostatisticians and physicians to write it off.
But the company (NASDAQ: AGEN) has persisted, saying that its drug, vitespen (Oncophage), actually did lower the risk of recurrence for about 60 percent of patients with intermediate risk of relapse—and that it now appears that those same patients had a 46 percent lower risk of dying, based on an interim analysis of patient records from 362 of the 604 subjects who enrolled in the trial. It will take another nine months of record-gathering and follow-up for the company to complete a final analysis of the data, but CEO Garo Armen hopes this will at least strengthen the company’s pending application to market Oncophage in Europe.
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