Ariad Pharma, After 18-plus Years, Sets Sights on Not One, But Two, Marketed Cancer Drugs

10/28/10

The cancer drug developer Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ARIA) is headquartered on the same block in Cambridge, MA, as Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company. Like Millennium has done with its game-changing cancer treatment bortezomib (Velcade), Ariad now has a big opportunity with the lead cancer drug in its pipeline, ridaforolimus.

Ariad, which has no marketed products, could get its first major product revenue from ridaforolimus, which is in a pivotal clinical trial for the treatment of soft tissue and bone sarcomas. Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK), which took over development of the drug from Ariad through an amended licensing deal in May, is expected to report results of the Phase III trial sometime around the end of 2010. If the clinical trial is a success, the FDA could approve the drug next year.

It has taken Ariad, founded in 1991, the better part of two decades to get to this point. When I stopped by to visit on a sunny day last week, the firm’s chief scientist, Timothy Clackson, and two of his colleagues talked about cancer patients whose lives have already benefited from ridaforolimus or the second anti-cancer candidate in the firm’s pipeline, ponatinib. Clackson, who joined the company in December 1994, has waited a long time be talking about the potential of having one of the firm’s treatments on the market.

“I’ve been here for 16 years. As it turns out there are many leaders and scientists in our R&D group who have similar longevity and commitment to Ariad,” Clackson said, “and it means the world to be on the cusp of potentially bringing something to patients and the market.”

Ariad is on the cutting edge of developing what are known as targeted cancer therapies. Such drugs are designed to hit specific molecular targets to treat cancer, aiming to block the biological drivers of the disease while mostly sparing healthy tissues. The company decided to focus on targeted cancer drug development about a decade ago, Clackson says. Ariad is really just one of many companies pursuing this strategy: Novartis’s imatinib (Gleevec) and Roche’s bevacizumab (Avastin), two of the most successful new cancer treatments to reach the market over the past decade, are also targeted drugs.

What’s different here is that Ariad and Merck’s ridaforolimus would be the first … Next Page »

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