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Antisoma and Roche's ovarian cancer drug disappoints

Published on 12/05/04 at 11:00am

A phase III trial of a drug to treat ovarian cancer has disappointed and is likely to be dropped, co-developers Antisoma and Roche have announced.

The companies said the drug, monoclonal antibody R1549, had not produced outcomes significantly better than standard treatment and said further development was unlikely.

Originally developed at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research UK) and licenced to Antisoma in 1996, R1549 was one of a number of compounds included in a groundbreaking development deal struck between the UK biotech company and Roche in November 2002.

Roche bought exclusive worldwide rights to Antisoma's entire pipeline of oncology candidates and took a 10% equity stake in the company as well as making separate cash payments. The deal has secured the long-term future of Antisoma, and remains unique among European biotech-pharma deals.

The agreement allows Roche to licence any of Antisoma's pre-clinical oncology compounds when they start clinical trials over a five year period; R1549 and related cancer treatment R1550 being the first two incorporated into Roche's pipeline.

RI550, like failed drug R1549, binds to the MUC1 protein found on the surface of a number of cancer cells and acts as a 'marker flag' for the immune system to identify and destroy them. Antisoma says a significant difference is that R1549 works by delivering a radioactive payload whereas R1550 is humanised, consequently making it less likely to be rejected by the body and more effective. The drug is being co-developed by Antisoma and Roche in phase I trials for breast cancer along with AS1404, a small molecule agent which works by cutting off the blood supply to cancer cells.

Antisoma chief executive Glyn Edwards said the company was "obviously disappointed" by the R1549 result but said the remaining drugs in the pipeline were "strong, diverse and rapidly advancing" and that further additions to Antisoma's clinical portfolio would be made by the end of the year.

Roche is less troubled by the failure of the drug as it enjoys a run of good news from its in-house oncology portfolio and other collaborations such as its co-development of breakthrough cancer drug Avastin with Genentech.

William Burns, Head of Roche's Pharmaceuticals Division, said: "Drug development is a high-risk endeavour and such results are not unexpected in the development of novel treatment modalities. The outcome of this study will have no impact on our growth outlook and we remain committed to our long-term relationship with Antisoma, which is based upon multiple products.

For Roche, the disappointment was minor compared to some very encouraging recent news about lung cancer treatment Tarceva.

"Commercially more important, Roche also announced highly significant phase III data on Tarceva in non-small cell lung cancer which will be the next regulatory submission of a major product contribution to the treatment of cancer. The Roche group will be in the unparalleled position of having five cancer medicines with a proven survival benefit - Herceptin, MabThera, Xeloda, most recently Avastin and now Tarceva," said Mr Burns.



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