Another boost for Novartis' Afinitor in breast cancer

Novartis ($NVS) has delivered more promising data on Afinitor at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, spawning headlines all over. The drug, now approved for kidney and other cancers, extended progression-free survival to 7.4 months when added to hormonal therapy, compared with 3.2 months with hormonal therapy alone. The data even hinted Afinitor might prolong patients' lives, The New York Times reported, but that's not for certain.

What is certain is that Novartis' hopes for Afinitor just got a boost. The company plans to apply for a breast cancer indication by the end of the year. And it has said Afinitor could bring in an additional $1 billion per year from a new use in breast cancer, Reuters reports. In 2010, Afinitor sales amounted to $243 million.

However, some experts questioned whether the control treatment was much of a challenge for add-on Afinitor to better. The study involved 724 postmenopausal women with hormone-fueled metastatic breast cancer whose treatment with certain hormone-blocking drugs had failed. Study patients were either given another hormone blocker, Aromasin (exemestane), by itself, or Aromasin plus Afinitor. "They put it up against weak opponent," University of Texas Health Science Center cancer specialist Peter Ravdin told the Times.

But others said the mTOR-inhibiting Afinitor had proven to be a breatkthrough, even though it has some serious side effects. "In spite of the toxicity, this is the first time that we see such a degree of delay of tumor progression in women with refractory estrogen receptor positive breast cancer," said Mayo Clinic's Edith Perez, who headed up the independent panel monitoring the trial (as quoted by Bloomberg). "This should serve as a guide to change standards of care."

- see the NYT story
- get more from Reuters
- check out the Bloomberg piece

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