ZymoGenetics Melanoma Drug Passes Small Study, Gets Overshadowed by Bristol-Myers

6/5/10Follow @xconomy

[Updated: 2:30 pm Pacific] ZymoGenetics just can’t seem to catch a break.

The Seattle-based biotech company has some positive, albeit preliminary, data out today on its experimental treatment for melanoma that has spread throughout the body—one of the toughest forms of cancer to treat. But ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN) had the misfortune to be upstaged big-time by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which dominated the news with its promising results for a melanoma drug called ipilimumab, or “ipi” for short. One researcher at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, quoted in the New York Times, said the Bristol drug was a “historic” advance. The detailed results were published online today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Any drug with promise against melanoma that has spread, or metastatic melanoma, to use the clinical term, is bound to be big news. This is a relatively rare form of skin cancer that is diagnosed in about 68,000 people in the U.S. each year—but it kills an estimated 8,600 people a year nationwide, according to the American Cancer Society. The most commonly used drug, a chemotherapy called dacarbazine or DTIC, has historically only helped shrink tumors in about 15 percent of patients, and only keeps them from spreading for a median time of about six weeks.

The ZymoGenetics product, called IL-21, is designed to work differently, as a genetically engineered protein drug that stimulates a variety of cells from the immune system to attack the cancer. The drug showed in a mid-stage trial of 40 patients that it could at least partially shrink tumors about 23 percent of the time, and keep the cancer from spreading for a median period of 4.3 months. This study didn’t randomly assign patients to the Zymo drug or a comparison group, so it’s impossible to say for sure how much of an advantage the new drug might offer. But patients are being followed up to measure survival times, ZymoGenetics said.

Still, the lead researcher on the study, Teresa Petrella, had an optimistic comment to make today in a ZymoGenetics statement. The results are good enough for researchers to take … Next Page »

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  • http://www.northcoastbio.com Johnny T. Stine

    I would take IL-21 over “ipi” any day.