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ASCO: AstraZeneca shows off cancer immunotherapy

MEDI4736 could rival Merck & Co’s anti-PD1 inhibitor pembrolizumab
AstraZeneca AZ headquarters London UK

AstraZeneca has reported positive data for its immunotherapy MEDI4736, which was pillar of its defence against Pfizer's takeover attempt last month, in a series of cancer types.

The MEDI4736 results in a dose-escalation study involving more than 300 patients topped the list of new data reported by the company at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago this week.

MEDI4736 showed "durable clinical activity and tolerability across a range of tumour types" - including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), melanoma, colorectal, head and neck, pancreatic and renal cell cancer - and the company now plans to move swiftly ahead with a phase III programme for the immunotherapy.

The dose escalation study showed a reduction of tumour burden at multiple dose levels as early as six weeks, with clinical activity maintained over one year. There was also a very low frequency of drug-related serious adverse events, and no dose-limiting toxicities, according to AZ.

The drug targets programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) - one of the hottest targets in cancer at the moment - and with estimated peak sales potential of $6.5bn a year was at the centre of AZ's efforts to show that Pfizer's £69bn takeover offer undervalued the company.

Analysts have voiced scepticism about the ability of the drug to reach such lofty highs, given that rival therapies from Merck & Co, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche are a little ahead on the development pathway. However, the solid data coming out of ASCO does no harm to AZ's efforts to remain independent, especially if Pfizer tries another takeover approach in a few months' time.

The company said it was accelerating development of MEDI3476 in combination with its CTLA-4-targetting antibody tremelimumab, and it also presented additional data from early-stage studies looking at the drug in combination with chemotherapy, Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab) and GlaxoSmithKline's melanoma drugs Tafinlar (dabrafenib) and Mekinist (trametinib), which are in the process of being transferred to Novartis.

"The data presented at ASCO reinforce the importance MEDI4736 plays in our immuno-oncology portfolio, and more broadly, the potential role it has to help in transforming cancer therapy, alone and in combination with other treatments," said Edward Bradley, senior vice president, R&D, at AZ's MedImmune unit.

Article by
Phil Taylor

4th June 2014

From: Research

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