Defining Success in Clinical Trials: Is Learning Something Enough?

Posted by Judi Space on Thu,Jul 25, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

Avastin discussed at ASCOAt last month’s ASCO conference, rapt attention was given to a presentation on the clinical trial results for the drug Avastin for patients recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), according to an article by Clinton Leaf appearing in the New York Times, which is summarized below, with our comments added. The presentation by Dr. Mark R. Gilbert, professor of neuro-oncology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, revealed earlier clinical trial results that were encouraging:  tumors shrank and the disease appeared to stall for months in two smaller single-arm studies.

No Difference

However, Dr. Gilbert’s larger double blind study of over 600 brain cancer patients found no difference in the survival rate for patients given a placebo with standard treatment vs. those given Avastin with standard treatment.  In effect, the larger, more reliable double blind study eliminated doubt as to the general effectiveness of the drug.   In other words, the trial was “a success” because it had a clear result, but we learned that the drug has no statistically significant impact on the disease as a whole. But is that enough for the trial to truly be deemed a success?

It depends on how you define success. On one hand, doctors have no additional information on how to successfully treat brain cancer as a result of the study. On the other, one possible solution has been eliminated, so doctors and pharmaceutical companies can continue their quest for an effective drug armed with the knowledge from the study.

Not so Fast

The problem is that it is not quite as cut and dried as all that. Some patients who take Avastin do significantly better than those who do not. However, the trial failed to reveal the responders that make this result possible. Despite 400 clinical trials over 16 years, no correlation has been made as to why Avastin works or fails to work in certain patients. Again, given that we don’t know, can we deem the trial a success?  

Individualized Factors May Hold the Key

Researchers are learning that individualized pathology and physiology may be significant factors in developing effective drugs for treating certain diseases.  The variability of tumors and cancers at the genetic level can be great, as can the way our genes affect our response to drugs. So the solution to some diseases may lie in identifying the drugs that best align with the individualized factors associated with a given disease.

Failure rates in clinical trials tend to increase significantly as the drug moves from phase I to phase II. In the final phase it is not unusual for trials to wholly contradict earlier trials, or for the benefits to be far less than what was first reported, according to a 2005 paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Ioannidis, an authority on statistical analysis.

The Difficulty of Matching Clinical Trial Populations to Patients

Rules governing statistical trial enrollment typically produce trial populations of younger and healthier members than those likely to use the drug. In addition, trial populations typically have had far less medical treatment. These factors combine to form somewhat of a mismatch between the trial population and patients. Given that the vast majority of drugs that enter clinical testing fail to get approved (95%), finding ways to match clinical trial participants with the appropriate genetic or molecular signature may be paramount to finding drugs that work.  

That’s the approach taken by Genentech in developing Herceptin, a breast cancer drug that targets tumor cells with an abundance of the HER2 protein. Small clinical trials were designed that enrolled only those with the required molecular or genetic signature. 60% of the new drugs in development at Genentech/Roche are being developed in concert with a diagnostic test to determine patients most likely to benefit. They did not go that route when they developed Avastin and tested it in patients with GBM.

Back to the Question at Hand

So, is it enough to simply learn something from a clinical trial, even if we don’t find a solution to treat a disease? Given that there is so much riding on finding drugs that improve and extend the lives of those suffering, anything that moves us forward, even if only eliminating what was thought to be a potential solution, is a step in the right direction.


Pennside Partners is a leading pharmaceutical and biotech consulting firm with over 25 years experience. They are headquartered in the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Tags: FDA, Oncology, Targeted Therapy, Cancer Drug Development, Oncology Clinical Trial Design, Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Drug Development, Breast Cancer Oncology, Glioblastoma, ASCO

Heads up for ASCO: Our List of Key Oncology Presentations

Posted by Judi Space on Tue,May 07, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

Expect the biggest data dump of the year at this annual cancer mega-conference

ASCO Oncology and Drug Development Conference Highlights May June 2013

 

 

 

For those of us taking an interest in Biotech and Drug Development the largest release of new clinical data is just around the corner at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting to be held in Chicago starting on May 31. In ASCO’s preliminary press release, the organization revealed what it thought were the key presentations to be presented at the meeting.  The actual abstracts will be posted on the ASCO website on May 15th, but the titles of the presentations are available now.

Pennside always sends a large team to ASCO to review the data and discuss its implications with experts in the field.  After reviewing the entire program, we have a hit list of what we believe are the most important studies to be presented at the meeting, especially regarding development of targeted therapies for a number of cancer indications.

Breast Cancer:

    • Phase III, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicenter trial of daily everolimus plus weekly trastuzumab and vinorelbine in trastuzumab-resistant, advanced breast cancer (BOLERO-3). (Abstract #505)

One of the most important data releases this year at ASCO in Breast Cancer will be the preliminary results from the BOLERO-3 trial of Afinitor in combination with Herceptin and vinorelbine in HER2+ metastatic Breast Cancer patients.  Results were expected at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in 2012; however there had not been enough events to report at that time.  This trial should clarify whether Afinitor can be used to reverse resistance to HER2 therapies as well as it does with hormonal therapies.  If successful, this will expand the reach of Afinitor into the 2nd line of HER2+ Breast Cancer therapy, where its side effect profile will not cause the hesitance that it has in the ER+ populations.

  • A phase II trial of an oral CDK 4/6 inhibitor, PD0332991, in advanced breast cancer. (Abstract #519)

Interest remains extremely high for the anti-CDK4/6 inhibitor palbociclib from Pfizer.  More data from the Phase II trial will be released during a poster discussion session at ASCO.  The preliminary data seen at SABCS in 2012 was very significant and if these further results support it, the approval of this compound will dramatically affect the 1st line treatment of advanced ER+ Breast Cancer.   Since the FDA granted palbocicllib the designation of Breakthrough Therapy, the oncology community is very focused on how this will affect it’s developmental pathway. 

Colorectal Cancer:

  • Analysis of KRAS/NRAS, BRAF mutations in the phase III PRIME study of panitumumab plus FOLFOX versus FOLFOX as first-line treatment for mCRC (abst# 3511)

ASCO granted an exception to its abstract policy so that data from this analysis could be released early (17 April) because it shows that patients with certain RAS mutations beyond KRAS may have a negative outcome from treatment with Vectibix. ASCO and Amgen strongly believe oncologists need this information now in order to make informed decisions about choosing effective treatments for their patients.

  • Randomized comparison of FOLFIRI plus cetuximab versus FOLFIRI plus bevacizumab as first-line treatment of KRAS wild-type mCRC: German AIO study KRK-0306 (FIRE-3) (Abst# LBA3506)

Outcome of this trial may determine if patients truly benefit from this class of drugs in the first line setting.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC):

    • A randomized study of ganetespib, a heat shock protein 90 inhibitor, in combination with docetaxel versus docetaxel alone for second-line therapy of lung adenocarcinoma (GALAXY-1) (Abst# CRA8007)

This is Synta’s lead product for 2nd line NSCLC. Previous interim results from GALAXY-1 have been positive, which leads us to suspect that this interim analysis will continue in a positive trend.  Final data (PFS/OS) for GALAXY-1 should be ready in time for EMSO2013 in Amsterdam or WCLC2013 in Sydney. The key for ganetespib’s initial success lies in any additional toxicity in combination with docetaxel. Note that GALAXY-2 (Phase III 2nd line NSCLC with docetaxel) has recently began enrolling patients. Clinicians will clearly contrast ganetespib with nintedanib (see below).

    • Nintedanib (BIBF 1120) plus docetaxel in NSCLC patients progressing after first-line chemotherapy: LUME Lung 1, a randomized, double-blind phase III trial. (Abst# LBA8011)

This is Boehringer Ingelheim’s second foray into the NSCLC. Their lead agent, afatinib is currently under regulatory review with both the FDA and EMA. Like ganetespib above, the key issue for nintedanib is toxicity in combination with docetaxel (provided the data is positive).Nintedanib clearly has the early lead when compared to ganetespib for becoming the newest agent in 2nd line NSCLC. Positive data in  LUME Lung-1 would be the second shot in the goal for Boehringer Ingelheim and their NSCLC franchise.

Prostate Cancer (PrCa):

  • Abstract #5016: A randomized phase II study evaluating the optimal sequencing of sipuleucel-T and androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) in biochemically recurrent prostate cancer (BRPC): Immune results (Abst# 5016)

With the increasing number of approved treatments available for prostate cancer the biggest challenge is how to best sequence the drugs to maximize efficacy and minimize toxicity.  Because Provenge does not alter PFS but does improve survival, there has been much discussion regarding the optimal place for its use.  This abstract may offer some guidance or at least improve understanding.

 

    • Abstract #5004: ERG rearrangements and association with clinical outcome in patients (pts) receiving abiraterone acetate (AA) (Abst#5016)

Results from the COU-AA-302 study in chemotherapy (chemo)-naïve metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC): The increasing number of targeted cancer therapies in development has necessitated the need for biomarkers to aid in determining patients most likely to respond to and benefit from each treatment.  Biomarkers will be increasingly valuable for patients and physicians in the decision making process.   ERG rearrangement in prostate cancer at the time of diagnosis, are markers for predicting subsequent tumor behavior and can help in better predicting the clinical outcome.

Kidney Cancer (RCC):

    • Record-3: Phase II randomized trial comparing sequential first-line everolimus and second-line sunitinib versus first-line sunitinib and second-line everolimus in mRCC (abst# 4504)

Trials evaluating sequencing of targeted therapies are always important in RCC, although mTOR use is uncommon in the first line setting. 

    • Clinical activity, safety, and biomarkers of MPDL3280A, an engineered PD-L1 antibody in mRCC (Abst# 4505)

This is early data, but it will be interesting to see how this agent compares to BMS’ nivolumab (anti-PD1), which is already in Ph III for RCC.

Melanoma:

    • Long-term follow-up data on the safety and efficacy of singe-agent nivolumab (an anti-PD-1 antibody) in patients with advanced melanoma (Abstract #CRA9006)

Nivolumab (BMS) , a new immunomodulator, made a big splash at last year’s ASCO and BMS has lost no time in fleshing out its development program across a number of tumor types.  Since its debut last year companies with other agents like nivolumab have sprung into action, with clinical data presentations for quite a few of them on the schedule.

    • Findings from a Phase III trial exploring the effect of the anti-PD-L1 antibody drug MPDL3280A in patients with locally advanced or metastatic solid tumors (Abstract #3000)

This study of MPDL3280A (Roche) in patients with solid tumors will be presented by Roy Herbst (Yale). It is most unusual for a Phase III trial to include patients with many different tumor types, and we are intrigued by what Roche plans to do with the data (should the study be positive).

    • BRAF inhibitor (BRAFi) dabrafenib in combination with the MEK1/2 inhibitor (MEKi) trametinib in BRAFi-naive and BRAFi-resistant patients (pts) with BRAF mutation-positive metastatic melanoma (MM). (Abst#9005)

Interest is high here for this combination of TKIs from GSK. Phase II data was very promising at last year’s ASCO, and NDA has been filed with the FDA, so any updates will be followed very closely by all stakeholders.

Glioblastoma (GBM):

    • RTOG 0825: Phase III double-blind placebo-controlled trial evaluating bevacizumab in newly diagnosed GBM (Abst# 1)

ASCO’s top abstract. Presentation of results from this trial, along with the previously-reported AVAglio trial, will help determine the benefit of adding Avastin to standard chemo and radiotherapy in newly-diagnosed GBM.

    • Bevacizumab, irinotecan, and radiotherapy versus standard temozolomide and radiotherapy in newly diagnosed, MGMT-nonmethylated GBM: First results from the randomized multicenter GLARIUS trial (Abst# LBA2000)

GBM patients with non-methlyated MGMT are resistant to treatment with the current standard of care chemotherapy (temozolomide), so if Avastin/irinotecan proves useful in this setting, it will be an important option for this group of patients who are currently without effective therapy.

Thyroid Cancer (ThyCa):

    • Sorafenib in locally advanced or metastatic patients with radioactive iodine-refractory differentiated thyroid cancer: The Ph III DECISION trial (Abst# 4)

Another top Abstract at ASCO: Earlier this year, Bayer announced that DECISION met its primary endpoint, so it will be exciting to see just how effective Nexavar is in this difficult setting in thyroid cancer.

    • Phase II study of everolimus and sorafenib for the treatment of metastatic thyroid cancer (6024)

It will be interesting to see if the addition of Afinitor to Nexavar (which is known to be effective in thyroid cancer) will add any additional benefit.

Liver Cancer (HCC):

    • Sorafenib alone versus sorafenib combined with gemcitabine and oxaliplatin (GEMOX) in first-line treatment of advanced HCC: Final analysis of the randomized Ph II GONEXT trial (UNICANCER/FFCD PRODIGE 10 trial) (Abst# 4028)

The GONEXT trial will show if the addition of Nexavar to chemotherapy can improve outcomes in HCC, where chemotherapy alone is not very effective. HCC is a difficult disease, and many patients have difficulty with the side effects of Nexavar alone—this combination will have to overcome the potential for increased toxicity with some significant benefit in survival in order to be successful.

    • Ph II trial of Pexa-Vec (pexastimogene devacirepvec; JX-594), an oncolytic and immunotherapeutic vaccinia virus, followed by sorafenib in patients with advanced HCC (Abst# 4122)

Oncolytic viruses are a novel approach in oncology, particularly in HCC. This Ph II data will hopefully be the first indication of whether Pexa-Vec will be effective and well-tolerated.


Pennside Partners is a leading pharmaceutical and biotech consulting firm with over 25 years experience. They are headquartered in the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Tags: Oncology, Cancer Drug Development, Drug Development, Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Drug Development, Breast Cancer Oncology, Kidney Cancer, Liver Cancer, Thyroid Cancer, Glioblastoma, Melanoma, Prostate Cancer, Lung Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, ASCO

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