FDA Revokes Approval of Avastin Use For Metastatic Breast Cancer; Major U.S. Ovarian Cancer Advocacy Organization Concerned

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Hamburg revoked approval of Avastin for treatment of metastatic breast cancer in the U.S. The decision does not impact Avastin’s availability for its approved uses for other cancer types in the U.S. A major U.S. ovarian cancer advocacy organization is concerned that the FDA decision will make it more difficult for ovarian cancer patients to gain access to Avastin.

FDA Revocation of Avastin Approval For Metastatic Breast Cancer

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., said today she is revoking the agency’s approval of the breast cancer indication for Avastin® (bevacizumab) after concluding that the drug has not been shown to be safe and effective for that use.

Avastin will still remain on the market as an approved treatment for certain types of colon, lung, kidney and brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme).

“This was a difficult decision. FDA recognizes how hard it is for patients and their families to cope with metastatic breast cancer and how great a need there is for more effective treatments. But patients must have confidence that the drugs they take are both safe and effective for their intended use,” Dr. Hamburg said. “After reviewing the available studies it is clear that women who take Avastin for metastatic breast cancer risk potentially life-threatening side effects without proof that the use of Avastin will provide a benefit, in terms of delay in tumor growth, that would justify those risks. Nor is there evidence that use of Avastin will either help them live longer or improve their quality of life.”

Avastin’s risks include severe high blood pressure; bleeding and hemorrhaging; heart attack or heart failure; and the development of perforations in different parts of the body such as the nose, stomach, and intestines.

Today’s decision, outlined in Dr. Hamburg’s 69-page opinion, involves Avastin used in combination with the cancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol) for those patients who have not been treated with chemotherapy for their form of metastatic breast cancer known as “HER-2 negative.” This indication must now be removed from Avastin’s product labeling.

Dr. Hamburg’s decision is based on an extensive record, which includes thousands of pages submitted to a public docket, data from several clinical trials, and the record from a two-day hearing held in June, 2011.

Avastin was approved for metastatic breast cancer in February 2008 under the FDA’s accelerated approval program, which allows a drug to be approved based on data that are not sufficiently complete to permit full approval. The accelerated approval program provides earlier patient access to promising new drugs to treat serious or life-threatening conditions while confirmatory clinical trials are conducted. If the clinical trials do not justify the continued approval of the drug or a specific drug indication, the agency may revoke its approval. In this case, the accelerated approval was based on promising results from one study that suggested that the drug could provide a meaningful increase in the amount of time from when treatment is started until the tumor grows or the death of the patient.

After the accelerated approval of Avastin for breast cancer, the drug’s sponsor, Genentech (a member of the Roche Group) completed two additional clinical trials and submitted the data from those studies to the FDA. These data showed only a small effect on tumor growth without evidence that patients lived any longer or had a better quality of life compared to taking standard chemotherapy alone – not enough to outweigh the risk of taking the drug.

The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), which is responsible for the approval of this drug, ultimately concluded that the results of these additional studies did not justify continued approval and notified Genentech that it was proposing to withdraw approval of the indication.

Genentech did not agree with CDER’s evaluation of the data and, following the procedures set out in FDA regulations, requested a hearing on CDER’s withdrawal proposal, with a decision to be made by the FDA Commissioner. That two-day hearing, which took place June 28-29, 2011, included recommendations from the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC), voting 6-0 in favor of withdrawing approval of Avastin’s breast cancer indication. After the hearing, the public docket remained open until August 4, 2011. In an earlier meeting of the ODAC, that committee had voted 12-1 in favor of the removal of the breast cancer indication from the Avastin label.

“FDA is committed to working with sponsors to bring promising cancer drugs to market as quickly as possible using tools like accelerated approval,” Dr. Hamburg said. “I encourage Genentech to consider additional studies to identify if there are select subgroups of women suffering from breast cancer who might benefit from this drug.”

Genentech Response

In a press release issued earlier today, Genentech’s Hal Barron, M.D., chief medical officer and head, Global Product Development, stated:

“We are disappointed with the outcome. We remain committed to the many women with this incurable disease and will continue to provide help through our patient support programs to those who may be facing obstacles to receiving their treatment in the United States. Despite today’s action, we will start a new Phase III study of Avastin in combination with paclitaxel in previously untreated metastatic breast cancer and will evaluate a potential biomarker that may help identify which people might derive a more substantial benefit from Avastin.”

Genentech emphasizes the following points in its press release:

  • The FDA Commissioner revoked approval of Avastin for treatment of metastatic breast cancer in the U.S.
  • The FDA’s action concludes its review of Avastin’s use for metastatic breast cancer.
  • The FDA decision does not impact Avastin’s approved uses for other cancer types in the U.S. or other countries.
  • The FDA decision does not impact the approval of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer in more than 80 foreign countries.
  • Roche will initiate a new clinical trial of Avastin plus paclitaxel in metastatic breast cancer.
  • Genentech will issue a letter to healthcare providers and will also provide them with a letter to distribute to their patients. Both letters will be made available on Genentech’s website.
  • Patients with questions or concerns about insurance coverage, or doctors with questions about reimbursement, can call Genentech’s Access Solutions Group at (866)-4- ACCESS.
  • Doctors with questions about Avastin can call Genentech’s Medical Communications group at (800) 821-8590.
  • The FDA’s action does not impact ongoing clinical trials with Avastin in breast cancer. For more information, please call Genentech’s Trial Information Support Line at (888) 662-6728 or visit clinicaltrials.gov.

Major U.S. Ovarian Cancer Advocacy Organization Concerned About Future Impact of FDA Decision

Karen Orloff Kaplan, MSW, MPH, ScD, Chief Executive Officer, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

Karen Orloff Kaplan, MSW, MPH, ScD, the Chief Executive Officer for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA), expressed concern that the removal of metastatic breast cancer from the Avastin label could negatively affect women with ovarian cancer, for whom the drug is used “off-label.”  OCNA is one of the most influential advocates for women with ovarian cancer in the United States.

Dr. Kaplan stated:

“Results from three Phase III clinical studies show that Avastin is beneficial for some women with ovarian cancer. We are deeply concerned that the Food and Drug Administration’s decision regarding metastatic breast cancer will make it difficult for women with ovarian cancer to access Avastin, and that patients could be denied insurance coverage for this treatment. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance will continue our work to ensure that drugs that are useful and medically appropriate are available to women with this disease.”

In the FDA report accompanying her decision, Commissioner Hamburg cited a lack of evidence that Avastin improved overall survival for women with metastatic breast cancer in its decision. “Given how difficult it is to measure overall survival in ovarian cancer clinical trials, we are concerned that today’s ruling may set an unfortunate precedent,” said Dr. Kaplan.

Currently, various national cancer treatment guidelines, such as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Compendium™, include Avastin as a treatment for ovarian cancer. Despite that fact, the FDA’s decision could prompt a reexamination of industry treatment guidelines by various groups, including the NCCN. The NCCN  is a nonprofit alliance which consists of 21 leading U.S. cancer centers.

Specifically, OCNA is concerned that the FDA Avastin label change, mandated by today’s FDA decision, will lead to restrictions by third party payers, including the U.S. Medicare federal insurance program, who generally reimburse for Avastin when a woman’s cancer has returned. OCNA’s concern may be warranted because Reuters reported earlier today that some healthcare insurers have already started pulling back on Avastin reimbursement coverage for breast cancer.

As of now, according to Reuters, Medicare will continue to pay for Avastin used in the treatment of breast cancer, despite  the FDA’s revocation decision. “Medicare will continue to cover Avastin,” said Don McLeod, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). “CMS will monitor the issue and evaluate coverage options as a result of action by the FDA but has no immediate plans to change coverage policies.” The CMS statement may mitigate concerns that patients using the drug would lose critical drug reimbursement insurance coverage in the future.

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ASCO 2011: Genetic Biomarker Predicts Taxane Drug-Induced Neuropathy

A new study has identified the first genetic biomarkers for taxane-induced peripheral neuropathy, a potentially severe complication of taxane chemotherapy that affects nerves in about one-third of patients with cancer receiving such treatment.

ASCO Releases Studies From Upcoming Annual Meeting – Important Advances in Targeted Therapies, Screening, and Personalized Medicine

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) today highlighted several studies in a press briefing from among more than 4,000 abstracts publicly posted online at http://www.asco.org in advance of ASCO’s 47th Annual Meeting. An additional 17 plenary, late-breaking and other major studies will be released in on-site press conferences at the Annual Meeting.

The meeting, which is expected to draw approximately 30,000 cancer specialists, will be held June 3-7, 2011, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Patients. Pathways. Progress.”

“This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the National Cancer Act, a law that led to major new investments in cancer research. Every day in our offices, and every year at the ASCO meeting, we see the results of those investments. People with cancer are living longer, with a better quality of life, than ever before,” said George W. Sledge Jr., M.D., President of ASCO, Ballve-Lantero Professor of Oncology and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

“With our growing understanding of the nature of cancer development and behavior, cancer is becoming a chronic disease that a growing number of patients can live with for many years,” said Dr. Sledge. “The studies released today are the latest examples of progress against the disease, from new personalized treatments, to new approaches to screening and prevention.”

New study results involving a genetic marker which can predict taxane drug-induced neuropathy were highlighted today in the ASCO press briefing, as summarized below.

Genetic Biomarker Predicts Taxane-Induced Neuropathy

A new study has identified the first genetic biomarkers for taxane drug-induced peripheral neuropathy, a potentially severe complication of taxane chemotherapy that affects nerves in about one-third of patients with cancer receiving such treatment. The finding may eventually lead to a simple blood test to determine whether a patient is at high risk for neuropathy.

Bryan P. Schneider, M.D., Physician & Researcher, Indiana University Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center; Associate Director, Indiana Institute for Personalized Medicine

“If these findings can be replicated, this may allow physicians to know prior to recommending therapy whether the patient is at an inordinate risk for developing taxane-induced neuropathy,” said Bryan P. Schneider, M.D., lead author and a physician/researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and Associate Director for the Indiana Institute for Personalized Medicine. “This may allow for better counseling, use of alternative drugs or schedules, or omission of taxanes in the appropriate settings. These genetic findings might also provide insight into the mechanism of this side effect and help develop drugs to prevent this toxicity altogether.”

Such damage to the nerves can cause pain and numbness and limit the dose of chemotherapy a patient can receive. While only a few factors seem to predict which patients are likely to get peripheral neuropathy, including a history of diabetes and advanced age, genetic variations may explain why some patients are more sensitive to taxane drugs.

The authors conducted a genome wide association study on 2,204 patients enrolled in an Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group breast cancer clinical trial (E5103) in which all patients received taxane-based chemotherapy, namely paclitaxel (Taxol). The study looked for variations in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”), by evaluating more than 1.2 million SNPs in each patient.  A SNP is a DNA sequence variation which occurs when a single nucleotide — A (adenine), T (thymine), C (cytosine), or G (guanine) — in the genome (or other shared sequence) differs between two individuals, or between paired chromosomes located within the nucleus of an individual’s cells.

With a median follow-up of 15 months, the study identified genetic subgroups that were markedly more likely to develop peripheral neuropathy.

Those who carried two normal nucleotides in the RWDD3 gene had a 27 percent chance of experiencing neuropathy; those who carried one normal nucleotide and one SNP had a 40 percent risk; and those who carried two SNPs had a 60 percent risk.

In contrast, those who carried two normal nucleotides in the TECTA gene had a 29 percent chance of experiencing neuropathy; those who carried one normal nucleotide and one SNP had a 32 percent risk; and those who carried two SNPs had a 57 percent risk.

The study also found that older patients and African Americans were much more likely to have peripheral neuropathy, and further analysis of SNPs in these groups is underway.

The authors plan to continue their work in additional trials to validate these findings and to determine whether a different type or schedule of taxane therapy would result in less neuropathy in the more susceptible genetic groups. The authors also are collaborating with neurobiologists to understand why these genetic variations might make the nerves more sensitive to these drugs.

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Blunting the Activity of Protein Abcc10 May Help Counter Taxane Drug Resistance In Ovarian Cancer

New findings by Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers identify one protein, Abcc10, as being intimately involved in resistance to certain drugs used to treat breast, ovarian, lung, and other cancers. The results suggest that blunting the activity of Abcc10 might help counter resistance and extend the effectiveness of these anticancer drugs.

Today’s anticancer drugs often work wonders against malignancies, but sometimes tumors become resistant to the effects of such drugs, and treatment fails. Medical researchers would like to find ways of counteracting such resistance, but first they must understand why and how it happens. New findings by Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers identify one protein, Abcc10 (ATP-binding cassette transporter 10) (also known as multidrug resistance protein 7 (Mrp7)), as being intimately involved in resistance to certain drugs used to treat breast, ovarian, lung, and other cancers. The results suggest that blunting the activity of Abcc10 might help counter resistance and extend the effectiveness of these anticancer drugs.

The findings appear in the May 15, 2011 issue of the journal Cancer Research.

Elizabeth A. Hopper-Borge, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In earlier work, Elizabeth A. Hopper-Borge, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Fox Chase, showed that Abcc10 confers resistance to a number of anticancer agents, particularly taxanes, which include paclitaxel (Taxol) and docetaxel (Taxotere). These drugs––originally derived from the Pacific yew tree––work by disrupting cell division, thus arresting the growth and spread of tumors. The initial finding that Abcc10, a member of a ubiquitous family of proteins called ATP-binding cassette transporters, thwarts taxanes’ anti-tumor activity was something of a surprise, says Hopper-Borge, because none of the other family members seem to have that ability.

In the new research, Hopper-Borge and colleagues wanted to further explore, in both cultured cells and mice, the role of Abcc10. They developed a “knockout” mouse, in which the gene that codes for Abcc10 was missing, or knocked out. These mice appeared normal and healthy in every other respect, suggesting that Abcc10 is not essential for overall health and survival.

The researchers isolated cells from the knockout mice and tested the cells’ reactions to taxanes and two other anticancer drugs, vincristine and Ara-C. Compared to cells from normal mice that still possessed the gene for Abcc10, the knockout mouse cells were much more sensitive to the drugs.

Abcc10 and its ilk work by pumping drugs out of cells, so one might expect to see the drugs accumulating in cells that lack Abcc10, and that’s exactly what Hopper-Borge’s group saw. It had been suggested that other proteins might take over for Abcc10 if that protein were knocked out, but the researchers found no evidence suggesting that had happened.

Next, the research team studied the effects of one particular taxane, paclitaxel, on mice and found that the knockout mice were more sensitive to the drug, as reflected in body weight, white blood cell count, and ability to survive escalating doses of the drug.

“After seeing the effects on white blood cells, we decided to look at the tissue types that produce white blood cells to see if we could actually see differences there,” says Hopper-Borge. As expected, knockout mice treated with paclitaxel had smaller spleens and thymus glands and underdeveloped bone marrow, compared to normal mice treated with the same drug.

The results provide the first evidence from living organisms that Abcc10 is a cell’s built-in protection against the effects of powerful drugs, and raises the possibility of using Abcc10 inhibitors to break down that resistance and sensitize tumor cells to anticancer agents. The fact that mice lacking the protein have no obvious health problems is encouraging, suggesting that Abcc10 inhibitors could be used in human patients without causing side effects that might be expected to result from interfering with the pump’s normal functions.

Several Abcc10 inhibitors already have been identified, but they also inhibit other cellular transporters, which could have deleterious effects. For that reason, Hopper-Borge thinks the best approach may be developing inhibitors that work only in tumor cells or coming up with compounds that modulate, rather than completely inhibit the protein’s activity.

But using such treatments in patients is still far in the future, she emphasizes.

“I’d like to stress that we did this work in a mouse model,” Hopper-Borge says. “Our results so far suggest that this protein may be a clinically relevant target, but we need to do more studies to find out for sure.”

Co-authors on the study include Timothy Churchill, Chelsy Paulose, Emmanuelle Nicolas, Joely D. Jacobs, Olivia Ngo, Andres J. Klein-Szanto and Martin G. Belinsky of Fox Chase; Yehong Kuang of Central South University, Changsha, China; Alex Grinberg and Heiner Westphal of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and Gary D. Kruh of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Phenoxodiol Used In Combination With Platinum or Taxane-Based Chemotherapy Is Active In Platinum & Taxane-Resistant Ovarian Cancer

Phase II clinical study results suggests phenoxodiol is active in platinum and taxane drug-resistant ovarian cancer patients when administered intravenously in combination with platinum or taxane-based chemotherapy

Marshall Edwards, Inc., an oncology company focused on the clinical development of novel therapeutics targeting cancer metabolism, recently announced the publication of results from a phase II clinical trial of intravenous phenoxodiol in combination with cisplatin or paclitaxel in women with platinumrefractory/resistant ovarian cancer. The publication is now available on the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer website, and the print edition will appear the May issue of the journal.

The study, conducted at Yale-New Haven Hospital, showed that the combination of intravenous phenoxodiol, a novel NADH oxidase inhibitor, with cisplatin (a platinum-based chemotherapy) or paclitaxel (a taxane-based chemotherapy), was well tolerated.

Robert D. Mass, M.D., Acting Chief Medical Officer, Marshall Edwards.

In the study, 32 patients were randomized to one of two treatment arms according to their previous treatment responses: (1) platinum refractory/resistant patients received weekly cisplatin (40 mg/m intravenous), combined with weekly phenoxodiol (3 mg/kg); and (2) taxane refractory/resistant patients received weekly paclitaxel (80 mg/m intravenous), combined with weekly phenoxodiol (3 mg/kg). The study patients continued on treatment until complete response, disease progression, unacceptable toxicity, or voluntary withdrawal.

In the cisplatin study arm, there were 3 partial responses, 9 patients (56%) achieved stable disease, 4 patients (25%) progressed, and the overall best response rate was 19%. In the paclitaxel study arm, there was one complete response and 2 partial responses, 8 patients (53%) achieved stable disease, 4 patients (27%) progressed, and the overall best response rate was 20%. Response rate in this study was defined as the percentage of patients whose tumor demonstrated a radiologically confirmed reduction or disappearance after treatment.

There were no treatment-related deaths in the study, and there was only one treatment-related hospitalization and two grade 4 (i.e., life-threatening or disabling) adverse events.

Based upon the foregoing results, the researchers concluded that the combination of intravenous phenoxodiol with cisplatin or paclitaxel was well tolerated.  Moreover, the researchers stated that the cisplatin-phenoxodiol combination was particularly active and warrants further study in patients with platinum-resistant ovarian cancer.

“These results suggest that the combination of intravenous phenoxodiol with cisplatin has a good safety profile and may be capable of reversing resistance to platinum-based chemotherapy,” said lead author Michael G. Kelly, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Tufts Medical Center and former fellow at Yale University School of Medicine.” This study provides early clinical proof-of-concept for the combination of NADH oxidase inhibitors with standard-of-care chemotherapy and lays the groundwork for the development of more potent next-generation compounds.”

To date, phenoxodiol, an investigational drug, has been introduced into more than 400 patients in multiple clinical trials via oral or intravenous routes and has been well tolerated. Marshall Edwards has identified a next-generation compound called “NV-143,” which has demonstrated significantly more activity than phenoxodiol against a broad range of tumor cell lines. In addition to being more active as a single agent, NV-143 appears to be superior in its ability to synergize with platinum-based chemotherapy in pre-clinical studies. As a result, Marshall Edwards plans to initiate a phase I clinical trial of intravenous NV-143 later this year, followed immediately thereafter by randomized phase II trials in combination with chemotherapy.

“These published results combined with data from previous studies reinforce our conclusion that intravenous administration is the optimal route of delivery for this class of drugs and give us added confidence moving forward as we develop our next-generation compound NV-143 for the clinic,” said Robert D. Mass, M.D., Acting Chief Medical Officer of Marshall Edwards.

About Marshall Edwards

Marshall Edwards, Inc. is a San Diego-based oncology company focused on the clinical development of novel anti-cancer therapeutics. The Company’s lead programs focus on two families of small molecules that result in the inhibition of tumor cell metabolism. The first and most advanced is a NADH oxidase inhibitor program that includes lead drug candidate NV-143. The second is a mitochondrial inhibitor program that includes NV-128 and its next-generation candidate NV-344. Both programs are expected to advance into the clinic in 2011. For more information, visit www.marshalledwardsinc.com.

About Novogen Limited

Novogen Limited is an Australian biotechnology company based in Sydney, Australia. Novogen has a consumer healthcare business, and conducts research and development on oncology therapeutics through its 71.3% owned subsidiary, Marshall Edwards, Inc.

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Ovarian Cancer Drug AMG 386 Shows Promise With Move To Phase 3 Trials In Australia, Canada & Europe

A new drug (AMG 386) designed to arrest ovarian cancer cell growth by inhibiting blood vessel formation is being readied for a phase 3 trial in Australia, Canada and Europe.

AMG 386, a new drug designed to arrest ovarian cancer cell growth by inhibiting blood vessel formation, is being readied for a phase 3 trial in Australia, Canada and Europe.

The attendees at the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting were told on November 10th that AMG 386 offers benefits over existing treatments, extending survival in advanced ovarian cancer patients with fewer side-effects.

AMG 386 is a first-in-class investigational “peptibody” (i.e., a combination of a peptide + an antibody) that is designed to block angiogenesis by inhibiting angiopoietin-1 and -2 (Ang1 & Ang2). Angiopoietins interact with the Tie2 receptor, which mediates vascular remodeling. Ang1 and Ang2 are thought to play opposing roles, and the maturation of blood vessels appears to be controlled by their precise balance.

Gary E. Richardson, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, Monash University, Victoria, Australia

Associate Professor of Medicine at Monash University, Gary Richardson, presented updated data from phase 2 clinical trials (first reported in June at the American Society of Clinical Oncology) showing that AMG 386 in combination with paclitaxel not only extends survival, but is well tolerated and reduces the risk of serious complications such as bowel perforation.

“Currently the prognosis for ovarian cancer patients is poor,” Professor Richardson said. “Over 75% of patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer present with advanced disease. Current treatments will cure only about a quarter of these patients.”

“The phase 2 trials show that AMG 386 combined with paclitaxel extends survival of heavily pre-treated patients by almost two thirds (4.6 to 7.2 months). In practical terms, this does not add significantly to survival time for terminal patients, but importantly indicates real potential as a first line treatment immediately following surgery.”

Professor Richardson said the treatment worked by inhibiting angiogenesis, the process by which new blood vessels grow from existing blood vessels. “By starving the cancer cells of blood supply, they will die in greater numbers. This form of therapy is complementary to current chemotherapy treatment as it uses a different mechanism to target the cancer.”

Professor Richardson said the phase 3 trial would commence by the end of this year and involve more than 1,000 patients in Australia, Canada and western Europe.

Bruce Mann, M.D., President, Clinical Oncological Society of Australia

Clinical Oncological Society of Australia President, Professor Bruce Mann, said clinicians had been frustrated by the lack of progress in treatment for ovarian cancer. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but novel approaches like this have the potential to make a real difference in patient survival from this devastating disease.”

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Access Pharma Commences European Phase II Study of ProLindac™ + Paclitaxel In Platinum-Sensitive Ovarian Cancer Patients

Access Pharmaceuticals announces commencement of a Phase 2 combination trial for its second generation DACH-platinum cancer drug, ProLindac™ (formerly known as AP5346), in platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer patients. This trial is an open-label, Phase 2 study of ProLindac™ given intravenously with paclitaxel. The combination trial will be conducted in up to eight European participating centers.

Access Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company leveraging its proprietary drug-delivery platforms to develop treatments in the areas of oncology, cancer supportive care and diabetes, announces commencement of a Phase 2 combination trial for its second generation DACH-platinum [the active part of the currently-marketed drug, oxaliplatin] cancer drug, ProLindac™ (formerly known as AP5346), in platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer patients. This trial is an open-label, Phase 2 study of ProLindac™ given intravenously with paclitaxel. The combination trial will be conducted in up to eight European participating centers.

“We are very pleased to be able to begin this trial, which will be the first of several ProLindac-based combination studies in a variety of indications,” said Prof. Esteban Cvitkovic, Vice Chairman Europe and Senior Director Clinical Oncology R&D, Access Pharmaceuticals, Inc. He continued, “The ambitious two-step design of the study will allow us to rapidly benchmark ProLindac/paclitaxel in a clinical setting where there is a clear need to establish an improved standard for long-term tumor responses. When treated using the current first-line combination of carboplatin/paclitaxel, more than half of patients with advanced ovarian cancer will relapse. There are very few second-line options. Approved agents for second-line and later therapy are currently focused primarily on the palliation of more resistant tumors. This lack of valid second-line options presents an opportunity to prove the role of ProLindac-based combinations in ovarian cancer.”

“After optimizing ProLindac’s scaled-up manufacturing process, we are pleased to be moving forward with its clinical development,” said Jeff Davis, President and CEO, Access Pharmaceuticals, Inc. He continued, “We think there is a significant clinical need and commercial opportunity for safer, more effective platinum drugs.”

Access Pharmaceuticals previously announced positive safety and efficacy results from its Phase 2 monotherapy clinical study of ProLindac™ in late-stage, heavily pretreated ovarian cancer patients. In this study, 66% of patients who received the highest dose achieved clinically meaningful disease stabilization according to RECIST [Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors] criteria, including sustained significant reductions in CA-125 (the established specific serum marker for ovarian cancer) observed in several patients. No patient in any dose group exhibited signs of acute neurotoxicity, which is a major adverse side-effect of the approved DACH platinum, Eloxatin®. ProLindac was very well tolerated, with only minor sporadic hematologic toxicity.

Access Pharmaceuticals is evaluating various indications where DACH platinum-based combinations have been proven active, such as hepatocarcinoma, biliary tree cancer and pancreatic cancer before deciding on an expanded Phase 2 program.

About ProLindac:

ProLindac™ is a novel DACH platinum prodrug that has completed a phase 2 monotherapy study in ovarian cancer patients. It is a polymer therapeutic that utilizes a safe, water-soluble nanoparticulate system to deliver DACH platinum to tumors, while reducing delivery to normal tissue, resulting in an increase in drug effectiveness and a significant decrease in toxic side-effects seen in the currently marketed DACH platinum, Eloxatin®.

For more information, please visit http://www.accesspharma.com/product-programs/prolindac/.

Source: Access Pharmaceuticals Commences ProLindac Phase 2 Combination Clinical Trial – Multicenter, Open-Label Trial to Target Platinum-Sensitive Ovarian-Cancer Patients, News Release, Access Pharmaceuticals, Inc., November 3, 2010.

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Largest Study Matching Genomes To Potential Anticancer Treatments Releases Initial Results

The largest study to correlate genetics with response to anticancer drugs released its first results on July 15. The researchers behind the study, based at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, describe in this initial dataset the responses of 350 cancer samples (including ovarian cancer) to 18 anticancer therapeutics.

U.K.–U.S. Collaboration Builds a Database For “Personalized” Cancer Treatment

The Genomics of Drug Sensitivity in Cancer project released its first results on July 15th. Researchers released a first dataset from a study that will expose 1,000 cancer cell lines (including ovarian) to 400 anticancer treatments.

The largest study to correlate genetics with response to anticancer drugs released its first results on July 15. The researchers behind the study, based at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, describe in this initial dataset the responses of 350 cancer samples (including ovarian cancer) to 18 anticancer therapeutics.

These first results, made freely available on the Genomics of Drug Sensitivity in Cancer website, will help cancer researchers around the world to obtain a better understanding of cancer genetics and could help to improve treatment regimens.

Dr. Andy Futreal, co-leader of the Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said:

Today is our first glimpse of this complex interface, where genomes meet cancer medicine. We will, over the course of this work, add to this picture, identifying genetic changes that can inform clinical decisions, with the hope of improving treatment.  By producing a carefully curated set of data to serve the cancer research community, we hope to produce a database for improving patient response during cancer treatment.

How a patient responds to anticancer treatment is determined in large part by the combination of gene mutations in her or his cancer cells. The better this relationship is understood, the better treatment can be targeted to the particular tumor.

The aim of the five-year, international drug-sensitivity study is to find the best combinations of treatments for a wide range of cancer types: roughly 1000 cancer cell lines will be exposed to 400 anticancer treatments, alone or in combination, to determine the most effective drug or combination of drugs in the lab.

The therapies include known anticancer drugs as well as others in preclinical development.

To make the study as comprehensive as possible, the researchers have selected 1000 genetically characterized cell lines that include common cancers such as breast, colorectal and lung. Each cell line has been genetically fingerprinted and this data will also be publicly available on the website. Importantly, the researchers will take promising leads from the cancer samples in the lab to be verified in clinical specimens: the findings will be used to design clinical studies in which treatment will be selected based on a patient’s cancer mutation spectrum.

The new data released today draws on large-scale analyses of cancer genomes to identify genomic markers of sensitivity to anticancer drugs.

The first data release confirms several genes that predict therapeutic response in different cancer types. These include sensitivity of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, with activating mutations in the gene BRAF to molecular therapeutics targeting this protein, a therapeutic strategy that is currently being exploited in the clinical setting. These first results provide a striking example of the power of this approach to identify genetic factors that determine drug response.

Dr. Ultan McDermott, Faculty Investigator at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said:

It is very encouraging that we are able to clearly identify drug–gene interactions that are known to have clinical impact at an early stage in the study. It suggests that we will discover many novel interactions even before we have the full complement of cancer cell lines and drugs screened. We have already studied more gene mutation-drug interactions than any previous work but, more importantly, we are putting in place a mechanism to ensure rapid dissemination of our results to enable worldwide collaborative research. By ensuring that all the drug sensitivity data and correlative analysis is freely available in an easy-to-use website, we hope to enable and support the important work of the wider community of cancer researchers.

Further results from this study should, over its five-year term, identify interactions between mutations and drug sensitivities most likely to translate into benefit for patients: at the moment we do not have sufficient understanding of the complexity of cancer drug response to optimize treatment based on a person’s genome.

Professor Daniel Haber, Director of the Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said:

We need better information linking tumor genotypes to drug sensitivities across the broad spectrum of cancer heterogeneity, and then we need to be in position to apply that research foundation to improve patient care.  The effectiveness of novel targeted cancer agents could be substantially improved by directing treatment towards those patients that genetic study suggests are most likely to benefit, thus “personalizing” cancer treatment.

The comprehensive results include correlating drug sensitivity with measurements of mutations in key cancer genes, structural changes in the cancer cells (copy number information) and differences in gene activity, making this the largest project of its type and a unique resource for cancer researchers around the world.

Professor Michael Stratton, co-leader of the Cancer Genome Project and Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said:

“This is one of the Sanger Institute’s first large-scale explorations into the therapeutics of human disease.  I am delighted to see the early results from our partnership with the team at Massachusetts General Hospital. Collaboration is essential in cancer research: this important project is part of wider efforts to bring international expertise to bear on cancer.”

Ovarian Cancer Sample Gene Mutation Prevalence

As part of the Cancer Genome Project, researchers identified gene mutations found in 20 ovarian cancer cell lines and the associated prevalence of such mutations within the sample population tested. For purposes of this project, a mutation — referred to by researchers as a “genetic event” in the project analyses description — is defined as (i) a coding sequence variant in a cancer gene, or (ii) a gene copy number equal to zero (i.e., a gene deletion) or greater than or equal to 8 (i.e., gene amplification).  The ovarian cancer sample analysis thus far, indicates the presence of mutations in twelve genes. The genes that are mutated and the accompanying mutation prevalence percentage are as follows:  APC (5%), CDKN2A (24%), CTNNB1 (5%), ERBB2/HER-2 (5%), KRAS (10% ), MAP2K4 (5%), MSH2 (5%), NRAS (10%), PIK3CA (10%), PTEN (14%), STK11 (5%), and TP53 (62%). Accordingly, as of date, the top five ovarian cancer gene mutations occurred in TP53, CDKN2A, CDKN2a(p14)(see below), PTEN, and KRAS.

Click here to view the Ovary Tissue Overview.  Click here to download a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet listing the mutations in 52 cancer genes across tissue types. Based upon the Ovary Tissue Overview chart, the Microsoft Excel Chart has not been updated to include the following additional ovarian cancer sample mutations and associated prevalence percentages: CDKN2a(p14)(24%), FAM123B (5%), FBXW7 (5%), MLH1 (10%), MSH6 (5%).

18 AntiCancer Therapies Tested; Next 9 Therapies To Be Tested Identified

As presented in the initial study results, 18 drugs/preclinical compounds were tested against various cancer cell lines, including ovarian. The list of drugs/preclinical compounds that were tested for sensitivity are as follows:  imatinib (brand name: Gleevec),  AZ628 (C-Raf inhibitor)MG132 (proteasome inhibitor), TAE684 (ALK inhibitor), MK-0457 (Aurora kinase inhibitor)sorafenib (C-Raf kinase & angiogenesis inhibitor) (brand name: Nexavar), Go 6976 (protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor), paclitaxel (brand name: Taxol), rapamycin (mTOR inhibitor)(brand name: Rapamune), erlotinib (EGFR inhibitor)(brand name: Tarceva), HKI-272 (a/k/a neratinib) (HER-2 inhibitor), Geldanamycin (Heat Shock Protein 90 inhibitor), cyclopamine (Hedgehog pathway inhibitor), AZD-0530 (Src and Abl inhibitor), sunitinib (angiogenesis & c-kit inhibitor)(brand name:  Sutent), PHA665752 (c-Met inhibitor), PF-2341066 (c-Met inhibitor), and PD173074 (FGFR1 & angiogenesis inhibitor).

Click here to view the project drug/preclinical compound sensitivity data chart.

The additional drugs/compounds that will be screened by researchers in the near future are metformin (insulin)(brand name:  Glucophage), AICAR (AMP inhibitor), docetaxel (platinum drug)(brand name: Taxotere), cisplatin (platinum drug)(brand name: Platinol), gefitinib (EGFR inhibitor)(brand name:  Iressa), BIBW 2992 (EGFR/HER-2 inhibitor)(brand name:  Tovok), PLX4720 (B-Raf [V600E] inhibitor), axitinib (angiogenesis inhibitor)(a/k/a AG-013736), and CI-1040 (PD184352)(MEK inhibitor).

Ovarian cancer cells dividing. (Source: ecancermedia)

Ovarian Cancer Therapy Sensitivity

Targeted molecular therapies that disrupt specific intracellular signaling pathways are increasingly used for the treatment of cancer. The rational for this approach is based on our ever increasing understanding of the genes that are causally implicated in cancer and the clinical observation that the genetic features of a cancer can be predictive of a patient’s response to targeted therapies. As noted above, the goal of the Cancer Genome Project is to discover new cancer biomarkers that define subsets of drug-sensitive patients. Towards this aim, the researchers are (i) screening a wide range of anti-cancer therapeutics against a large number of genetically characterized human cancer cell lines (including ovarian), and (ii) correlating drug sensitivity with extensive genetic data. This information can be used to determine the optimal clinical application of cancer drugs as well as the design of clinical trials involving investigational compounds being developed for the clinic.

When the researchers tested the 18 anticancer therapies against the 20 ovarian cancer cell lines, they determined that the samples were sensitive to many of the drugs/compounds. The initial results of this testing indicate that there are at least six ovarian cancer gene mutations that were sensitive to eight of the anticancer therapies, with such results rising to the level of statistical significance.  We should note that although most (but not all) of the ovarian cancer gene mutations were sensitive to several anticancer therapies, we listed below only those which were sensitive enough to be assigned a green (i.e., sensitive) heatmap code by the researchers.

Click here to download a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet showing the effect of each of the 51 genes on the 18 drugs tested. Statistically significant effects are highlighted in bold and the corresponding p values for each gene/drug interaction are displayed in an adjacent table.  A heatmap overlay for the effect of the gene on drug sensitivity was created, with the color red indicating drug resistance and the color green indicating drug sensitivity.

The mutated genes present within the 20 ovarian cancer cell line sample that were sensitive to anticancer therapies are listed below.  Again, only statistically significant sensitivities are provided.

  • CDKN2A gene mutation was sensitive to TAE684, MK-0457, paclitaxel, and PHA665752.
  • CTNNB1 gene mutation was sensitive to MK-0457.
  • ERBB2/HER-2 gene mutation was sensitive to HKI-272.
  • KRAS gene mutation was sensitive to AZ628.
  • MSH2 gene mutation was sensitive to AZD0530.
  • NRAS gene mutation was sensitive to AZ628.

We will provide you with future updates regarding additional ovarian cancer gene mutation findings, and new anticancer therapies tested, pursuant to the ongoing Cancer Genome Project.

Sources:

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About The Genomics of Drug Sensitivity In Cancer Project

The Genomics of Drug Sensitivity In Cancer Project was launched in December 2008 with funding from a five-year Wellcome Trust strategic award. The U.K.–U.S. collaboration harnesses the experience in experimental molecular therapeutics at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and the expertise in large scale genomics, sequencing and informatics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The scientists will use their skills in high-throughput research to test the sensitivity of 1000 cancer cell samples to hundreds of known and novel molecular anticancer treatments and correlate these responses to the genes known to be driving the cancers. The study makes use of a very large collection of genetically defined cancer cell lines to identify genetic events that predict response to cancer drugs. The results will give a catalogue of the most promising treatments or combinations of treatments for each of the cancer types based on the specific genetic alterations in these cancers. This information will then be used to empower more informative clinical trials thus aiding the use of targeted agents in the clinic and ultimately improvements in patient care.

Project leadership includes Professor Daniel Haber and Dr. Cyril Benes at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Professor Mike Stratton and Drs. Andy Futreal and Ultan McDermott at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

About Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $600 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.

About The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992 as the focus for U.K. gene sequencing efforts. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms such as mouse and zebrafish, and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2005, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to enable the Institute to build on its world-class scientific achievements and exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease. These programs are built around a Faculty of more than 30 senior researchers. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is based in Hinxton, Cambridge, U.K.

About The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education, and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.

Required Cancer Genome Project Disclaimer:

The data above was obtained from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Cancer Genome Project web site, http://www.sanger.ac.uk/genetics/CGP. The data is made available before scientific publication with the understanding that the Wellcom Trust Sanger Institute intends to publish the initial large-scale analysis of the dataset. This publication will include a summary detailing the curated data and its key features.  Any redistribution of the original data should carry this notice: Please ensure that you use the latest available version of the data as it is being continually updated.  If you have any questions regarding the sequence or mutation data or their use in publications, please contact cosmic@sanger.ac.uk so as to obtain any updated or additional data.  The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute provides this data in good faith, but makes no warranty, express or implied, nor assumes any legal liability or responsibility for any purpose for which the data are used.