Nexavar, Herceptin could gain from cancer meeting

As usual when oncologists get together to talk shop, lots of pharma news hit the streets over the weekend during the annual Breast Cancer Symposium in San Antonio. Here's a sampling of developments for already approved therapies:

  • Nexavar, the Bayer/Onyx Pharmaceuticals drug, may trounce some cancers' resistance to treatments, helping hormone-blocking therapies work longer. Hormone-receptor positive breast cancers are wily things that eventually figure out how to circumvent hormonal therapies, but the kidney-and-liver cancer drug Nexavar seemed to "put the brakes" on treatment resistance. That could open up a whole new world for Nexavar, but the companies first would have to mount a late-stage study. News
  • Doctors shouldn't wait to use Genentech's Herceptin until after chemotherapy, according to a Mayo Clinic study. When women were given chemo and Herceptin at the same time, the five-year survival rate increased to 84 percent from 80 percent among those taking chemo then Herceptin, and from 72 percent in those using chemo alone. "Concurrent use is the best way" to decrease the risk of cancer recurrence," Dr. Edith Perez told the Los Angeles Times. Story
  • An older class of chemo meds carries greater risk of side effects than newer versions when used with Herceptin, a study found. Both anthracyclines and non-anthracyclines were effective in combination with the drug, but patients on the former had more heart damage. Some doctors suggest that the standard of care be updated to privilege the non-anthracyclines, but others say more data is needed. Article

Plus, there was news of studies-to-come: Concurrent with the symposium, Roche announced that FDA had cleared it to go ahead with a study of Avastin in early breast cancer. Enrollment was suspended back in September because of six cases of heart failure, but the study's safety board has since concluded that the risk-benefit analysis of Avastin in combo with three difference drugs was "unchanged."