Cell Therapeutics isn’t going down without a fight. The Seattle-based biotech company (NASDAQ: CTIC) said today that data from a clinical trial of Zevalin, its drug for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, along with an editorial by a leading lymphoma doc who urged his peers to “encourage wider appreciation and use” of drugs in its class.
This data, first presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting in Atlanta in December, clearly made an impression with peer reviewers. The study, sponsored by Bayer before Cell Therapeutics bought the drug in December, enrolled 414 patients getting first-line treatment for their slow-growing lymphoma. They hoped to see a benefit from Zevalin, which works by taking an antibody drug that seeks out cancer cells and attaching a small dose of radiation to give it extra tumor-killing punch. Patients on the drug were able to keep their cancer from spreading for a median time of 36.5 months, compared with 13.3 months in a control group. About 77 percent of patients who had partial tumor shrinkage on prior treatments entering the study had their tumors completely wiped out after getting a single shot of Zevalin, researchers said.
The results “confirm and extend prior data demonstrating the tremendous potential of radio-immunotherapies in the treatment of B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” said Oliver Press, a lymphoma expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, in an editorial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that was quoted by the company. “It is hoped that studies such as those in this issue would encourage wider appreciation and use,” of the two marketed radiation-antibody drugs—Zevalin and GlaxoSmithKline’s Bexxar.
The problem is that both drugs have been commercial flops. Zevalin, first introduced by Biogen Idec in 2002, never exceeded $20 million a year in annual sales. Cancer doctors have complained about the logistics of handing off patients to radiation specialists to give the drug, and what they consider inadequate reimbursement from Medicare.
Cell Therapeutics bought it in December for $10 million upfront and $20 million in more milestone payments, but its plan to capitalize on the drug hinges on persuading the FDA to expand approval from relapsed patients to this first-line treatment group. Cell Therapeutics has turned in that application, but it also has been running seriously low on cash, and its stock has collapsed to 40 cents a share. If Cell Therapeutics doesn’t survive the current economic crunch, I’m guessing somebody will find a promising drug on the clearance rack.
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