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New cancer data emerges at ASCO

The approach of combining drugs with other treatment types in the battle against cancer appeared to take centre stage at this year's meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando.

The approach of combining drugs with other treatment types in the battle against cancer appeared to take centre stage at this year's meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), in Orlando, Florida. The market for breast cancer drug Herceptin, which amassed sales of $483m in 2004, could expand by some $250m a year if it gets approved for treating early stage disease, according to SG Cowen. Developers Roche and Genentech unveiled data at ASCO showing that when combined with standard chemotherapy treatment in early stage breast cancer patients, Herceptin reduced the risk of disease relapse inside four years by 52 per cent, compared with chemotherapy alone.

Separately, combining ImClone's colon cancer drug Erbitux, marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, with rival product Avastin (developed through the Roche/Genentech partnership) was shown to boost its efficacy compared with administration of the single product. The findings are expected to bolster the sales of both drugs.

ìSometimes it can be difficult to get competitors to co-operate on studies, but they need to do that to give physicians the tools they need,î commented Edith Perez, professor of medicine at the Mayo Medical School. ìWe have a better chance of curing these diseases if we use the targeted therapies earlier, and in combination with each other and traditional drugs.î

Pfizer up on ASCO data

Pfizer has run a high profile campaign to highlight its presence at ASCO this year, though it seems it has also turned heads with some of its trial results. The firm's investigational anticancer drug, SU11248, was shown to more than double survival and significantly reduce tumour growth and spread in patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumours that had become resistant to standard therapy with Glivec.

Of the 300 patients in the double blind phase II trial, who were intolerant of, or had become resistant to Glivec, SU11248 prolonged the time to tumour progression to 6.3 months (compared with 1.5 months for controls) and reduced the risk of death by approximately 50 per cent, compared with patients on placebo.

Other promising data indicated its effectiveness against difficult-to-treat cancers, such as metastatic renal cell carcinoma. In a 63-patient trial, 40 per cent of kidney cancer patients responded to treatment with SU11248 as measured by standard response criteria. Tumours did not progress for more than three months in an additional 28 per cent of patients.

ìResults suggest that SU11248 has substantial anti-tumour activity in metastatic renal cell carcinoma as second-line therapy,î said Dr Robert Motzer, attending physician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He spoke of plans for a phase III trial of the drug to determine the potential benefits in treating earlier stage disease.

30th September 2008

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