For decades, advanced lung cancer was a quick death sentence. That’s no longer a given, thanks in part to the arrival of immunotherapy. If a medical meeting in Barcelona this week was any indication, more help could be on the way.
Targeted medicine isn’t new to lung cancer, but only a fraction of patients have the eligible mutations, such as EGFR and ALK, and thus have a chance to avoid chemotherapy and its toxic side effects. New drugs targeting other alterations, like KRAS-G12C and RET fusions, could expand that pool. A few of them continued to show promise in clinical studies this week.
There was plenty more to digest as the medical conference calendar kicked into high gear this week, along with the rest of the top life sciences headlines, so let’s get right to it.
LUNG CANCER ADVANCES
—Treatment for lung cancer has changed dramatically the past few years, and more advances were presented this week at a medical meeting in Spain. Among them: targeted pills, immunotherapy-chemotherapy combinations, and a closely watched medicine from Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN).
—In a Phase 3 study called IMpower110, the Roche immunotherapy atezolizumab (Tecentriq) fared better than chemotherapy in patients whose non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) has high levels of the protein PD-L1.
—Merck (NYSE: MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) had immunotherapy updates too. Merck’s pembrolizumab (Keytruda)-chemo combo helped NSCLC patients whose tumors didn’t have PD-L1; Bristol presented long-term survival numbers for patients on nivolumab (Opdivo).
DATA UPS & DOWNS
—Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) and Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) posted an update for diroximel fumarate, which they aim to show is a safer successor to Biogen’s multiple sclerosis (MS) pill Tecfidera. Less than 1 percent of the 888 patients in the Phase 3 study EVOLVE-MS-1 for a median of 18 months have dropped out thus far because of GI issues, a key statistic the companies are tracking.
—Novartis (NYSE: NVS) today is presenting results of a Phase 3 study showing that its monthly MS drug ofatumumab beat Sanofi’s teriflunomide (Aubagio) head to head.
—Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) reported encouraging Phase 1 results for cytomegalovirus and chikungunya virus infections, a small step forward for its closely watched experimental messenger RNA therapies. The biggest cause for concern: One volunteer reported cardiovascular problems. STAT has more.
—Shares of Adverum Biotechnologies (NASDAQ: ADVM) fell 31 percent after what analyst Mani Foroohar of SVB Leerink called “mixed signals” in an early trial of a gene therapy for wet age-related macular degeneration. At the study’s six-month mark, none of the six patients had yet received a rescue therapy. But vision, on average, also worsened.
—Shares of Tocagen (NASDAQ: TOCA) plummeted nearly 80 percent after its gene therapy for recurrent brain cancer failed a Phase 3 trial.
—Aveo Oncology (NASDAQ: AVEO) updated survival data from a late-stage study of its tivozanib (Fotvida) in kidney cancer, briefly boosting shares 50 percent. The FDA first rejected Fotvida in 2013. It was approved in Europe in 2017, but Aveo warned earlier this year that the approval was at risk if long-term survival rates didn’t improve.
—The Acadia Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ACAD) drug pimavanserin succeeded in a Phase 3 study in psychosis in dementia patients. The drug is already approved to treat psychosis in Parkinson’s patients.
AND THE WINNERS ARE…
—The winners of this year’s Lasker Awards, the top US biomedical prizes, went to the inventors of the breast cancer drug Herceptin, pioneers in the field of immunology, and a nonprofit expanding global access to vaccines.