Millennium’s Velcade, As Time Wears On, Shows Durable Ability to Prolong Lives

12/8/08Follow @xconomy

Millennium Pharmaceuticals may not be the breakout performer at this year’s American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting like it was a year ago, but another 12 months of follow-up data is strengthening the case that its cancer drug is no fluke.

Cambridge, MA-based Millennium, now a unit of Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceuticals, presented follow-up data today at the ASH conference in San Francisco, the largest annual meeting of specialists in blood cancers and other blood diseases. The results show bortezomib (Velcade) is able to extend lives for patients getting their initial round of therapy for multiple myeloma, a deadly cancer of the bone marrow. One study of 680 patients found that after more than two years of follow-up (25.9 months), patients had a 36 percent lower risk of death if they took a regimen with bortezomib than if they didn’t get the drug.

This data buttresses findings that Millennium released at last year’s ASH, when I saw a standing-room only crowd of physicians in Atlanta give the company a roaring standing ovation for the results it delivered for patients newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The drug, in combination with two immune suppressors, showed it was able to cause 35 percent of people newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma to go into complete remission. That was compared to just 5 percent who did that well on the immune suppressors alone. The trial of 680 patients, called Vista, cleared the way for Millennium to get expanded FDA clearance to market the drug to patients getting their first round of treatment, in addition to relapsers. It also no doubt helped propel it to blockbuster status this year with more than $1 billion in sales.

“Last year was an incredible landmark year for us in the first-line setting, and this year we are showing the important long-term effects,” says Nancy Simonian, Millennium’s chief medical officer.

Multiple myeloma may not be a household name, but the disease is fairly common as cancers go. About 20,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S., and more than 10,000 people die from it, according to the American Cancer Society. That’s roughly on par with stomach cancer, and skin cancer.

One catch with all cancer drugs is that complete remissions can be a reliable predictor of a drug that helps extend lives, or they can be fleeting, as tumors bounce right back and kill people. So the follow-up data is important. This question will take years to answer, because patients with this prognosis currently can expect to live five to six years, so it will take more time … Next Page »

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