3 Things In Biotech You Should Learn Today: April 21, 2017

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Includes: ABBV, NVCR, NVS
by: Zach Hartman, PhD

Summary

More and more on Optune at AAN for Novocure.

AbbVie stumbles on its development of PARP inhibitors.

Novartis shows eltrombopag can be added to immunosuppressive therapy for aplastic anemia.

Welcome to another edition of "3 Things in Biotech You Should Learn Today," a series covering actionable updates in the biotech community. Here, you might learn some new information about companies you know about as well as news for companies that may not be on your radar.

Let's get to the news!

More and more on Optune at AAN for Novocure

Novocure (NASDAQ:NVCR) has announced that it will be presenting new findings regarding tumor-treating fields at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in several poster sessions. One such presentation will focus on data from a combination study involving their therapy, Optune, and chemotherapy.

Specifically, 46 patients (in this analysis) with recurrent glioblastoma were divided into several groups. One group received Optune + Avastin + irinotecan (Group A). The other group (Group B) were given alterantive combinations, including Optune+Avastin or temozolomide.

The overall survival in Group A was 32.8 months, and in Group B it was 16.5 months, representing improved survival for a triplet regimen incorporating Optune.

Looking forward: Clinicians are going to be very interested in knowing how addition of Optune to other treatment strategies may or may not benefit patients. For a time, it appears that Optune might do about as well as chemotherapy, with significant advantages in terms of side effects. Now it is becoming clear that Optune represents a very encouraging treatment strategy all its own. So there continue to be strong developments for Optune and NVCR.

AbbVie stumbles on its development of PARP inhibitors

Amid the growing excitement for PARP inhibition in ovarian cancer, the potential for these agents in other forms of cancer has been aggressively explored. One of the later comers to the party is AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) with its drug veliparib, which is being studied in ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer.

ABBV announced in a press release top-line data from its two phase 3 trials in breast and lung cancer, specifically triple-negative breast cancer and squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). ABBV divulged that these two studies failed to meet primary endpoints, with full results to be reported in a publication, or possibly at this year's ASCO meeting.

Looking forward: PARP inhibitors have had a shaky history, only recently finding its footing in the management of ovarian cancer. While it was hoped that this treatment strategy could help patients with other tumor types, these data do not bode well for continued development in non-BRCA-selected patients. Veliparib is still being assessed in other settings, like BRCA-mutant, HER2-negative breast cancer in more advanced stage and advanced, non-squamous NSCLC in current or former smokers. So the story is definitely not over for veliparib.

Novartis shows eltrombopag can be added to immunosuppressive therapy for aplastic anemia

Patients who undergo intense chemotherapy sometimes develop a condition called aplastic anemia, where the bone marrow is unable to make bloods cells. This can lead to life-threatening complications, necessitating interventions. Novartis (NYSE:NVS) has announced the publication of results from a phase 1/2 study combining eltrombopag with immunosuppressive therapy. Eltrombopag is currently approved for the management of thrombocytopenia in patients with chronic immune-related thrombocytopenia.

Aplastic anemia can be treated with immunosupressive therapy, and combining eltrombopag with this is thought to increase the stem cell pool and improve efficacy. Complete response rates ranged from 80% to 94%, compared with 10% seen in a historical cohort. This was without a major increase in toxicity, including "cytogenetic evolution," which is a risk factor for developing myelodysplastic syndrome.

Looking forward: These findings in aplastic anemia speak glowingly to the prospect of expanded indication for eltrombopag. It's not terribly often that you see phase 1/2 results worthy of the New England Journal. So it seems likely we can expect to see more of eltrombopag in severe aplastic anemia, addressing an important hole in oncology supportive care.

Conclusion

Thank you for checking out this digest of biotech news. If you enjoyed it, I hope you'll consider becoming a follower of mine, as that will allow you receive updates when new editions come out. Even if you don't, I hope you enjoyed this article, and I appreciate your time!

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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