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Combating Cancer

Data for approved drugs dominate at clinical oncologists' meeting

by Lisa M. Jarvis
June 11, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 24

Credit: ASCO
Credit: ASCO

MORE THAN 31,000 people flocked to Chicago last week for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which highlighted results from more than 4,000 clinical trials. Despite an abundance of data for experimental drugs, the most promising late-stage results came from already marketed products.

The most attention went to Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals' Nexavar, a growth-factor inhibitor approved to treat kidney cancer. Data show that the drug extended the life of patients with advanced liver cancer by nearly three months-major progress in that disease.

But the lack of breakout hits from new drugs in late-stage clinical trials underscored the need to keep up the pace of developing new treatment options. Cancer is a disease with a "staggering complexity" that continues to generate new avenues of research, said National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director John E. Niederhuber at the opening press briefing. For example, he said, growing evidence indicates that the process of metastasis may begin before cancer cells start to migrate to other sites. That possibility translates into a need to identify markers that can be used to monitor the progression of disease.

However, scientists are trying to solve those problems while "coping with a less-than-inflation budget," Niederhuber said. The budget for NCI has fallen 12% per year in real dollars since 2004. He pointed out that funding to address issues like bioterrorism are important, but he also noted that "today, 1,500 people will die of cancer."

A handful of promising early-stage trials were reported, particularly for drugs with unique approaches to treating disease. Regeneron's afilbercept showed positive activity in Phase II trials in the sickest of ovarian cancer patients. The drug blocks the same protein as Genentech's monoclonal antibody Avastin, but it's composed of the two extracellular domains of that protein fused to a generic IgG antibody.

CytImmune offered intriguing data from its "nanomedicine," or, more specifically, its tumor necrosis factor bound to PEGylated gold nanoparticles. Also promising were reports that OncoGenex' second-generation oligonucleotide drug appeared to increase cancer cells' sensitivity to chemotherapy in Phase II trials in lung and prostate cancers.



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