Amgen posts positive PhIII data as judgment day for cancer vaccine bet nears

In 2011, Amgen ($AMGN) splashed out an initial $425 million to buy BioVex and its cancer vaccine in what analysts described as a "high risk, high reward" deal. A little more than three years later Amgen is close to finding out if the bet has paid off, and the latest data is encouraging.

When Amgen's then-R&D chief Roger Perlmutter discussed the vaccine in 2011, he talked up its apparent ability to destroy distant tumors, as well as those into which it is injected. The latest data adds more evidence to these claims. In the Phase III trial the experimental advanced melanoma vaccine--known as talimogene laherparepvec or T-Vec--shrank one-third of uninjected tumors in the skin or lymph nodes by 50% or more. A complete response was seen in one-fifth of these tumors.

The vaccine also had an effect on remote tumors in the liver, lung and other solid organs, with 15% shrinking by at least half. Dr. Robert Andtbacka, one of the lead investigators on the study, told Reuters: "This indicates to us that we have activation of the immune system to fight these tumors at a distant site." Amgen also reported the vaccine shrank two-thirds of the tumors into which it was injected by 50% or more. Of these tumors, almost half had a complete response.

Andtbacka described the data--which looked at 4,000 tumor lesions from 295 patients--as "very encouraging." Amgen has previously published data showing a durable tumor response of at least 6 months and improved median survival, but the pivotal results are still to come. Definitive survival data is expected in the next few months and will go some way to showing whether Amgen's bet--which could be worth up to $1 billion including milestones--is likely to pay off.

- here's Reuters' article
- check out FierceBiotech's take
- and the press release

Special Report: Top 10 experimental cancer drugs - 2013 - T-Vec