Source: The Guardian – Rupert Neate.
Drug MEDI4736 fast-tracked to phase-III trials following tests on lung cancer amid hopes it could replace chemotherapy for some
It may not be the catchiest of names, but the AstraZeneca drug MEDI4736 was revealed on Wednesday night as a “new great white hope” in the fight against cancer as it took centre stage in the British company’s battle against Pfizer’s planned £63bn takeover.
It is this drug, developed in Cambridge and Maryland, that AstraZeneca chief executive, Pascal Soriot, was referring to when he warned MPs that an aggressive cost-cutting transaction could delay development and cost lives.
Doctors and scientists are so excited about the potential of MEDI4736 that it has been fast-tracked to phase III hospital trials before the results of the first clinical trials have even been published.
AstraZeneca’s head drug developer, Briggs Morrison, believes the drug, which has initially been trialled on lung cancer but could be extended to a whole range of tumours, could “hold the potential to shape the future of cancer treatment” and rake in annual sales of up to £3.9bn.
The results of phase I trials released on Wednesday night showed “encouraging clinical activity and acceptable safety across a range of tumour types”, which Morrison said would help “redefine the cancer treatment landscape”.
The development of MEDI4736, or in scientific terms a human monoclonal antibody, is so important to AstraZeneca that Soriot will fly to the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago to oversees the full presentation of the results later this month.
MEDI4736 works by stripping cancer cells of their “stealth cloak” so that the patient’s immune system can detect and kill tumours, and could replace chemotherapy in some cases. AstraZeneca last week began testing the drug on 702 patients who have non-small-cell lung carcinoma at more than 100 hospitals across the world. The tests have begun more than six months ahead of schedule as AstraZeneca rushes to get the drug to market ahead of rivals.
“MEDI4736 is an important molecule in our immuno-oncology portfolio and its entry into phase III clinical trials is further evidence of our commitment to invest in distinctive science in our core therapy areas, and to rapidly progress our immuno-oncology pipeline,” Morrison said. “Lung cancer is still the leading cancer killer, there is a clear need for more treatment options to provide patients with a better chance of beating the disease.”
The excitement surrounding the drug was further underpinned on Wednesday when the company announced plans for a separate trial of MEDI4736 in conjunction with another drug to create “an enhanced anti-tumour immune response”. Savvas Neophytou, analyst at Panmure Gordon, said the investment and scientific communities were buzzing with excitement about the “great white hope [of]MEDI4736”. Combining MEDI4736 with US biotech company Incyte’s NCB24360 molecule was the equivalent of “removing the stealth from cancer and hitting the target with much higher ballistics at the same time”.
“MEDI4736 blocks the signals that help tumours avoid detection by the immune system, countering the tumour’s immune-evading tactics, while INCB24360 enhances the ability of immune cells to combat the tumour,” he said.
Colin White, lead analyst and head of oncology at Datamonitor Healthcare, said MEDI4736 had “a tremendous amount of commercial potential”.
“It looks like it’s going to be an effective treatment against a wide range of different tumours, so there is potential for high commercial returns. This drug could be worth multibillions of dollars, but there are lots of competitors out there and there’s a chance they could beat AstraZeneca to market and steal a huge commercial advantage.”
Roche, Merck and Bristol-Myers are also developing similar immunotherapy treatments…read the full story.