Galena and the vaccine that won’t die

Galena continues to hobble along with NeuVax, resisting defeat even though their peptide vaccine targeting HER2-positive breast cancer has failed in patients who have HER2-positive breast cancer as well as in patients who have breast cancer that is, ahem, HER2-lite (this is not a thing). With each failed study, Galena becomes less ambitious: the company announced the presentation of a study-update abstract at San Antonio where the study in question features neither real cancer nor real endpoints.

Continue reading “Galena and the vaccine that won’t die”

New strategies for SEs, but same old neratinib

Neratinib is basically useless and has unmanageable side effects. Puma can publicly acknowledge only one of these problems, so here we are, with the company testing various diarrhea prophylaxis strategies to support an argument that a 2% increase in five-year disease-free survival among early-stage HER2+ breast cancer patients is somehow worth all this misery. Continue reading “New strategies for SEs, but same old neratinib”

“No Cure Yet”, but lots of baseless hype

I asked my friend @Buyersstrike yesterday if anyone took The Motley Fool seriously, and he replied that yeah, some people think it’s real. Whether anyone could take this particular example, entitled No Cure Yet for Breast Cancer, but 3 Big Advances in 2016, seriously is a separate and more concerning question (TL;DR: HOW?), but for entertainment’s sake, let’s pick it apart.

First, the title. No cure “yet”? Are we anticipating a cure? It’s just around the corner? There’s also a promise that said cure will save “millions of lives”, which, given that 40,000 people die annually from breast cancer, is a promise that will take a while to realize. But that’s just the kind of article this is, which you already knew from the happy pink-ribbon-adorned women in the accompanying photo. Continue reading ““No Cure Yet”, but lots of baseless hype”

Nivo disappoints, but it didn’t have to be this way

In August, when BMS announced that nivolumab failed to meet its primary endpoint in Checkmate 026, I brushed it off. The flaw was obvious: Checkmate 026 randomized treatment-naive advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) subjects with PD-L1 of 1+% to nivo monotherapy or chemo. The competing Merck pembrolizumab study targeted the same previously untreated advanced NSCLC patient population, with the significant difference that Merck’s patients were enrolled based on 50+% PD-L1 expression (note: the studies used different diagnostics/PD-L1 thresholds).

So BMS over-reached. They went head-to-head with Merck for the broader label (not requiring positive PD-L1 expression for treatment, which dramatically increases the patient population), and hubris makes fools of us all. Like a lot of people, I figured the results would improve on subgroup analyses.

As you’ve seen by now, the results did not improve, and Checkmate 026 appears unsalvageable.

Continue reading “Nivo disappoints, but it didn’t have to be this way”

You can enroll in a clinical trial, but that doesn’t mean you should

One of the the core accusations of this blog is that cancer patients are pushed toward clinical trials in spite of alternatives with demonstrated safety and efficacy, which takes advantage of two patient biases: new (if unproven) means better and your physician has your best interests at heart.

Physicians are paid to participate in clinical trials. Let’s get that out of the way. There is nothing objective about recommending trials to patients; you only need to notice how often a physician points a patient toward a trial outside his or her practice to deduce that trial suggestions are not without bias.

Continue reading “You can enroll in a clinical trial, but that doesn’t mean you should”

Looking ahead with Cascadian Therapeutics

@Buyersstrike generously gave me the opportunity to trash neratinib on his site yesterday, and I thought I’d follow up with a post on a novel, oral, HER2-targeted drug I actually do like: ONT-380.

ONT-380 has been in development for a while, first at Array and then Oncothyreon Cascadian Therapeutics. It’s unique among HER2-targeted small molecules because it does not inhibit HER1 (EGFR), which lends it a more favorable AE profile – it’s the EGFR targeting that is associated with most of the skin rash and GI toxicities we see in this category.

Significantly, ONT-380 is being evaluated for the treatment of CNS mets. In breast, brain mets patients are the ones that actually die – you can live forever with metastatic breast cancer, but brain mets are generally a dealbreaker. (The flip side of the excellent survival stats in breast is why you only see PFS, and never OS, data in breast – with OS as a primary outcome, you’d never get a study analyzed, because you’d wait years collecting mortality events.) If you’re HER2+ positive, and your brain lesions are too multiple or too big for Gamma Knife and you don’t want whole brain radiation (n.b., you do not want whole brain radiation), you’re basically left with lapatinib. We need ONT-380.

There’s not a lot of public data, but there’s signal that the drug works. These results from the Ib trial combining ONT-380 with T-DM1 (Kadcyla) found that in heavily pre-treated MBC patients with and without measurable CNS disease, there was an overall response rate of 47% and a respectable median PFS of 6.5 months. Both of these measures are exceptional for brain cases. This is phase I data summarized in an ASCO abstract, so we don’t have a lot of details on the patient population or their responses, but there were even a couple of complete response (CR) cases in the measurable CNS mix.

The treatment of brain mets is a massive unmet clinical need, but it’s a tough strategy to pursue, because these studies are hard to enroll. The ideal patient would be someone asymptomatic who has never been treated for CNS mets, and in a clinical setting where screening MRI for brain is not standard of care, that profile is not common. Even if you found a perfect patient, you’d have to get them to a site that’s actually enrolling. (I am a strong advocate for de-centralizing clinical trials, but that is an uphill battle and a post for another day.) There are other enrollment challenges for their ongoing Phase II study as well; patients are randomized to receive Herceptin and capecitabine (Xeloda) +/- ONT-380, and prior treatment with capecitabine in the metastatic setting is an exclusion criterion; however, capecitabine is often given with lapatinib, which is permitted in this study as long as it was used >12 months prior to enrollment. A lot of HER2+ metastatic patients have had the Herceptin/Xeloda/Tykerb combo (it was my first-line metastatic treatment), because it’s just about the easiest cancer treatment you can do, and I don’t know how many patients receive Tykerb with just Herceptin or with Herceptin and another cytotoxic agent. At any rate, I doubt eligible ONT-380 patients are just falling into investigators’ laps. And while I have the same complaints about our slow, unwieldy, archaic regulatory body as anyone else, in this case, the FDA does seem to get it: they gave ONT-380 Fast Track status in June.

But there’s something I like about Cascadian that has nothing to do with science (give me some credit; we haven’t even seen PII yet). It’s this, via a screen cap from their website.

ont380-4

Do you see it? How about this?

ont380-3

For contrast, check out what I pulled from the Ixempra site (ixapebilone from BMS; a microtubule-binding agent, similar to a taxane).

ixempra-2

WTF is that? Who is that supposed to be?

These are marketing images, but they reflect a tension in the MBC treatment philosophy: are you going for a hike with your dog? Or are you just hanging on to see your grandchild born or whatever nonsense that lipstick mirror crap is supposed to signify? Cascadian is positioning itself as forward-thinking on multiple dimensions. They’re gambling on brain mets patients, who, despite a poor prognosis, are not staring in the mirror, trying to summon the will to hang on another day. Their patients are on a hike. You’re not dead; life still has meaning (this is part of why terrible side effect profiles on useless drugs are so offensive!). This company has balls. And they understand that patients Google, and good for Cascadian that these are the images they want patients to see.

Now bring on the PII results.