3 Things In Biotech, June 26: One Piece Of Good News Offset By A Cascade Of Bad?

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Includes: ABBV, ERYP, PFE, RHHBF
by: Zach Hartman
Summary

Roche scores a momentous win in small cell lung cancer.

Pfizer's Ibrance can't quite make the mark in survival improvement.

Erytech forced to kill its late-stage asparaginase strategy in ALL.

Welcome to another edition of "3 Things In Biotech You Should Learn Today," a daily digest dedicated to helping you keep pace with the fast-moving world of pharmaceutical and biotechnology research.

Roche scores a momentous win in small cell lung cancer

Company: Roche (OTCQX:RHHBF)

Therapy: Atezolizumab

Disease: Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

News: RHHBF announced that its PD-L1 inhibitor atezolizumab, in combination with standard chemotherapy, improved overall survival compared with chemotherapy alone for "extensive-stage" SCLC. We do not have details yet of the specifics, but it is likely that statistically significant here will also translate into clinically meaningful improvement.

Looking forward: I wrote a pretty short description of the news here, but don't let that fool you. This is a really important development for the lung cancer field and for RHHBF. So far, we have not seen much headway made in SCLC, and we have seen a number of high-profile failures, with single-agent immune checkpoint inhibitors failing to make a mark and AbbVie's (NYSE:ABBV) well-publicized failure of its antibody-drug conjugate Rova-T. It looks like we may finally see some momentum build in SCLC, which represents some 15% of all lung cancer cases.

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Pfizer's Ibrance can't quite make the mark in survival improvement

Company: Pfizer (NYSE:PFE)

Therapy: Palbociclib

Disease: Metastatic breast cancer

News: PFE announced the overall survival findings from its PALOMA-3 study, which assessed adding palbociclib (branded Ibrance) to fulvestrant for patients with hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer that has progressed on prior endocrine therapy. Although it originally met its primary endpoint of progression-free survival, overall survival fell short of a significant improvement.

Looking forward: This sounds like death knell-level news for palbociclib, but I would hold off on the doom and gloom. Hormone receptor-positive breast cancer generally has a favorable pool of treatment options, and this can severely challenge the interpretation of overall survival findings. For example, if a patient progresses while receiving the control treatment in PALOMA-3, that won't stop them from receiving other treatments in later lines or enrolling in other clinical trials. So those patients look like they're doing better than they might have done if they had received fulvestrant only and no further treatment.

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Erytech forced to kill its late-stage asparaginase strategy in ALL

Company: Erytech (NASDAQ:ERYP)

Therapy: Eryaspase

Disease: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

News: ERYP announced that the company will be refocusing its clinical development efforts on its version of L-asparaginase called eryaspase for the management of solid tumors. Even though the company saw favorable results in ALL, the feedback from regulators on its application for approval led ERYP to conclude that too much funding would need to be expended to get this drug approved in that already somewhat crowded space. Now, with encouraging findings coming out of tumor areas like pancreatic cancer, ERYP will regroup and attack other tough-to-treat tumors.

Looking forward: This is more "bad" news that may not be quite as horrible as it seems at first. On one hand, it has certainly gone from a company with a potential product nearly on the market - even if it's crowded - to suspending that program altogether. But if it can make an impact in metastatic pancreatic cancer, then the company would be onto something huge. Still, ERYP has yet to start its phase 3 trial here, so it's going to be quite some time before we see the fruits of this project.

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