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World’s first anti-PD-1 therapy approved

pharmafile | July 8, 2014 | News story | Research and Development, Sales and Marketing BMS, Cancer, melanoma, nivolumab, ono, opdivo 

Ono Pharmaceutical has been given the world’s first licence for a new type of cancer treatment on which many researchers’ hopes are being pinned.

The Japanese firm received approval for Opdivo (nivolumab), an anti-PD-1 (programmed death-1) monoclonal antibody, for use in adults with unresectable melanoma.

The intravenous infusion is believed to work by blocking the interaction of PD-1 with its ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2, giving the body’s immune system more chance of recognising cancerous cells and killing them.

Ono says it will give access to Opdivo free of charge – until it is listed on Japan’s national health insurance price list – and at hospitals where Phase II trials of the drug were carried out.

“We are delighted to obtain a manufacturing and marketing approval as a drug targeting PD-1, which receives a lot of attention in tumour immunity, for the first time in the world,” says Ono president Gyo Sagara.

Merck, Roche, AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb also have anti-PD-1 candidates in development in the race to a market potentially worth up to $35 billion per year: immunotherapy research is moving beyond its initial focus of skin cancer to other forms of the disease.

Ono is also looking at other cancers and has pledged to push for approvals in additional indications.

Opdivo itself came out of a research collaboration started in May 2005 between Ono and US firm Medarex: the latter is now owned by BMS, which has rights to develop and commercialise Opdivo outside of Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

BMS is expected to target lung cancer with a combination of Opdivo and the already-approved melanoma drug Yervoy (ipilimumab).

Meanwhile, Merck’s pembrolizumab last week took a big step towards becoming Europe’s first PD-1 cancer treatment as the European Medicines Agency accepted the medicine for review.

The EMA is looking at pembrolizumab (MK-3475) for the treatment of advanced melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, after it was found to have a one-year overall survival rate of 69%.

Merck says more regulatory filings outside Europe are planned ‘by the end of 2014’ and analysts are expecting peak sales of around $500 million for a licence in melanoma.

The drug was filed for approval in the US in January and could be approved there by October: if it becomes the first licensed anti-PD-1 therapy in Europe it will put Merck ahead of its rivals in this lucrative market.

Pembrolizumab won particular plaudits from the ASCO board, both for its efficacy and side effects profile: one observer said the low incidence of serious toxicity is ‘unheard of in this setting’.

Merck is also investigating pembrolizumab in lung, as well as head and neck cancer, with a Phase III trial in the former setting expected to start later this year.

Adam Hill

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