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liver tumors can easily be reached with the light device, and are extremely difficult to treat with anything else, like chemotherapy. Past studies suggest that patients with the cond, hepatocellular carcinoma, have about a five-month life expectancy. The study will compare those patients on Litx to ones randomly assigned to a treatment of the physician’s choice, and will compare overall survival time of the two groups. Results are expected early in 2009, Keltner says.
Since that date is fast -approaching, the company’s partners are looking to get a cut of the action before the price goes too high. Keltner says he’s confident he will sign a deal with a large pharmaceutical partner that can handle sales and marketing of the product, globally, for all solid tumor types, by the end of this year. Light Sciences Oncology has 36 employees, and doesn’t intend to build a sales force, he says. “We’re good at what we do, but we’re not a sales and marketing company,” he says. “We expect a substantial amount of money to come from our partnership.”
Since Light Sciences Oncology began its trial, another drug has emerged that prolongs lives for patients with liver tumors. Nexavar, a pill marketed by Emeryville, CA-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX) and Bayer, was approved by the FDA last year after it helped patients survive for a median time of 10.7 months, compared with 7.9 months for those on placebo. Light Sciences Oncology should still have room to compete, because unlike Onyx and Bayer’s, his company’s trial didn’t exclude patients who have more severe forms of cirrhosis, Keltner says. That means he could capture more of the market. Or, patients could take both treatments.
Another trial is running, of 450 patients with colorectal cancer that has spread to the liver, which should produce results by the end of 2009, Keltner says. Beyond that, the company is also developing its treatment for a non-cancer use: enlarged prostate, known as BPH.
Time was running out on my interview before Keltner could get to talk about all the other applications he sees of light-activated drugs, beyond cancer, so that will have to come another day. Always careful not to overpromise to the patients, he allowed himself a bullish comment when I asked him what he hopes the company will accomplish 10 years down the road.