AstraZeneca's Imfinzi fails another phase 3 trial, this time in head and neck cancer

AstraZeneca is hoping Imfinzi can come up with a survival win in previously untreated head and neck cancer. (AstraZeneca)

AstraZeneca is still stinging from Imfinzi’s combo flop in non-small cell lung cancer, but it’s already staring down another defeat.

On Friday, the British drugmaker said the immuno-oncology drug had failed to show it could extend the lives of patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer whose disease has worsened after chemo.

The company tested both solo Imfinzi and a combination of Imfinzi and candidate tremelimumab in patients regardless of their expression levels of biomarker PD-L1, and neither option could top standard-of-care chemo. While the pharma giant will wait for an upcoming medical meeting to share full details of the miss, Sean Bohen, AZ’s chief medical officer, called the results “disappointing” in a statement.

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RELATED: Merck's Keytruda shores up head and neck case with first-line trial win

AstraZeneca was hoping to join I-O leaders Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb in the head and neck cancer field. Both drugmakers bear green lights to treat patients who have already been through chemo.

Now, the company will have to pin its hopes on another phase 3 study, dubbed Kestrel, which is testing Imfinzi and tremelimumab in previously untreated patients and should read out in the first half of next year. And the company has some reason for optimism: Merck’s Keytruda, for one, failed to show it could significantly extend overall survival among previously treated patients, but in the front-line setting, it cut the risk of death among PD-L1 positive patients by 22%.

RELATED: AstraZeneca's Imfinzi fails key Mystic trial in lung cancer. What now?

On the other hand, another high-profile trial misstep for Imfinzi won’t sit well with investors, who were served bad news around the company’s Mystic first-line lung cancer trial last month. In that study, neither Imfinzi nor the Imfinzi-tremelimumab pairing could beat out chemo at lengthening lives, and the combo seemed to perform even worse than Imfinzi monotherapy.

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