Vertex Nails Pivotal Study for Cystic Fibrosis, Racing Toward Market With Second Drug
Vertex Pharmaceuticals has been moving in this direction for a long time, but it can now say with confidence that it is on its way to shaking up the standard of care for not just one disease this year, but two.
The Cambridge, MA-based biotech company (NASDAQ: VRTX), which has operations in San Diego, is announcing today it has passed a pivotal clinical trial of 161 patients with cystic fibrosis who were randomly assigned to get the company’s VX-770 pill or a placebo. The study found that patients on the Vertex drug had a 17 percent relative improvement in their ability to force out air from their lungs in one second—a common measure of success in treating lung disease—compared with those on a placebo. The effect lasted over the entire 48-week course of the study. Side effects included headache, upper respiratory tract infections, nasal congestion, rash, and dizziness, although more patients on the placebo group dropped out of the study early because of side effects, Vertex said.
While 17 percent relative improvement in breathing capacity for people with a deadly lung disease might not sound like much, this result represents a watershed for a portion of the 30,000 people in the U.S. with cystic fibrosis. Vertex is valued primarily for a drug (telaprevir) that has shown an ability to double the cure rate for patients with hepatitis C liver infections, but the company could have a similar life-changing effect for many patients with this genetic disorder. Cystic fibrosis, the result of a genetic mutation, causes the buildup of thick, sticky mucus in the lungs, which suffocates people over time, allowing a typical life expectancy of about 37 years. Doctors currently treat the symptoms of the disease, but Vertex’s drug could become the first FDA-approved therapy that works by altering an underlying faulty protein at work in patients with cystic fibrosis.
This drug isn’t for everybody—it was tested in a subpopulation of just 4 percent of cystic fibrosis patients with an abnormality known as G551D—but it’s the kind of result that scientists hope they will be able to build on to expand treatment to more patients with the deadly lung disease.
The results Vertex is releasing today from a study called Strive, which will be discussed later this year at a medical meeting, are “far beyond our expectations,” Vertex said in a statement. The firm plans to put together an application before the end of this year to seek regulatory clearance in the U.S., and Europe, to start marketing VX-770.
“The results from Strive are highly encouraging for the CF community and provide scientific evidence supporting our long-standing belief that targeting the underlying defect of CF may have a profound effect on the disease,” said Robert Beall, the president and CEO of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in a company statement. “We have much more to do to eliminate this disease, but these data are extremely exciting.” (The CF Foundation helped develop VX-770.)
Vertex’s trial would have been deemed a success if it delivered just 4.5 percentage points of absolute improvement in patients’ breathing, as measured by the standard clinical trial goal (forced expiratory volume in one second, or FEV1). The actual result, in absolute terms from the beginning … Next Page »