ASCO Wrap-Up: The Skinny on Cancer News From All Corners of the U.S.

6/7/11Follow @xconomy

Whoever came up with the phrase “drinking from the fire hose,” could have easily been thinking of the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.

The information on cancer R&D has been flowing furiously the past few days at ASCO, which draws about 30,000 cancer doctors, drug company executives, investors, and journalists. I didn’t attend the meeting this year in person, but I’ve still had plenty to write about. Here are some quick thumbnail summaries and links that caught my eye from companies in our national network.

BOSTON

Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA). The Cambridge, MA-based company built up a lot of suspense around its presentation of a pivotal study for its lead drug candidate for sarcoma, a deadly bone cancer. We already knew heading into the conference that this drug, ridaforolimus, hit its primary goal in a study of 711 patients, showing it kept tumors in check for a median of 17.7 weeks, compared with 14.6 weeks for a placebo. Yesterday at ASCO, researchers said an interim look at survival times suggests an advance for the Ariad drug over placebo—a median of 21.4 months vs. 19.2 months—but more patients need to be followed over time before statisticians can say with any confidence that the drug helps people live longer. Ariad’s partner, Merck, repeated that it plans to seek approval in the U.S. and European Union based on the success of the trial.

Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI). Infinity is the Cambridge, MA-based company that has dared to take on pancreatic cancer, a nasty malignancy that has pretty much whipped every drugmaker that has tried to take it on. When taken in combination with chemotherapy, Infinity’s drug, IPI-926, was able to produce meaningful tumor shrinkage in 31 percent of pancreatic cancer patients (5 of 16). There was no control group in this early-phase safety study, so this finding needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but historically less than 10 percent of patients have had that kind of response. Infinity is now in the process of attempting to prove this drug is a winner—through a randomized study of 120 patients that will measure whether IPI-926 in tandem with chemotherapy can help patients live longer than the chemo alone.

Synta Pharmaceuticals. Lexington, MA-based Synta (NASDAQ: SNTA) offered up some preliminary data that showed it has been thinking hard about how to pick patients with the right genetic profiles who are most likely to respond to its experimental drug, ganetespib. This drug, which works against a target called Hsp90, appeared most effective in lung cancer patients whose tumors expressed mutant forms of the genes ALK and KRAS. Patients with those mutations are especially difficult to treat, and the numbers of patients studied in that group is small, so it would be premature to raise any hopes about what this drug can do. Synta said six of the eight patients with ALK mutations (75 percent) had some tumor shrinkage in target lesions.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. The Cambridge, MA-based developer of RNA interference drugs (NASDAQ: ALNY) offered an update on an early-stage safety study of its experimental treatment for liver cancer, ALN-VSP. The company said most of the side effects experienced by the first 41 patients were mild in (fatigue, nausea, and fever) although there was one patient who suffered liver failure and died, in a case that Alnylam said “was deemed possibly related to study drug.” About two-thirds (7 of 11 patients) had their tumors stabilize at a dose of 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight—the dose Alnylam has selected as ideal for further development. The company didn’t talk specifically about next steps in clinical trials for ALN-VSP, but CEO John Maraganore did say “Clearly, these data are not only important for the continued advancement of our ALN-VSP program, but they also significantly increase our confidence in our entire pipeline of systemically delivered RNAi therapeutics.”

Constellation Pharmaceuticals. The venture-backed company in Cambridge, MA, developing cancer drugs based on advances in epigenetic science gave everybody a break on crunching hard data on drug response rates and side effects. It made some financing news, by raising $15 million in an extension of its Series B venture round, pulling in cash from Third Rock Ventures, The Column Group, Venrock Associates, SR One and Altitude Life Science Ventures.

San Francisco

Genentech/Plexxikon. Many of the big headlines at this year’s ASCO went to … Next Page »

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