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some cases are likely related to the drug, and some the progression of their disease. It’s worth watching because Epizyme is trying to show that tazemetostat can be taken for months, perhaps years, without the debilitating effects of chemotherapy.
Chen, however, says there weren’t nearly enough instances of low platelet count (nine severe cases) or low white blood cell count (five) to be concerned, and even severe cases among NHL patients who have gone through multiple rounds of treatments are usually reversible. “This [looks like] a very tolerable drug,” he says of tazemetostat, adding that it looks much safer than the standard of care “R-CHOP” therapy, a mix of rituximab (Rituxan) and chemotherapy.
NHL encompasses many different blood cancers and is one of the most common cancer types, representing about 4 percent of all U.S. cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 72,000 cases are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.
The forms of NHL are classified based on the appearance of the tumor cells. DLBCL cells are very large. FL cells grow in a circular pattern in the lymph nodes, according to the ACS.
Tazemetostat is what’s known as a targeted therapy, a small molecule drug designed to switch off the activity EZH2, which is implicated in a variety of cancers. As with all targeted cancer therapies, the idea is to hit the cancer cells and spare healthy tissue, unlike chemotherapy, which kills cancer and healthy cells alike.
Tazemetostat’s success is crucial to Epizyme. It’s one of only two drugs the company has in clinical testing. Epizyme splits the rights to the other drug, known as pinometostat, with Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG). The company bought back rights to tazemetostat from Japan’s Eisai in March 2015, in part because of better results in a broader group of patients than the company had first envisioned. Often a bigger partner walks away from a drug because of disappointing results. But Bazemore, in a previous interview with Xconomy, said oncology wasn’t a top priority for Eisai at the time, and the drug “wasn’t moving as quickly and aggressively as we thought it could be.” A separate Phase 2 trial in solid tumors will produce data later this year.