Cancer vaccines report mixed fortunes at ASCO

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Merck's ($MRK) PD-1-inhibiting immunotherapies dominated headlines coming out of cancer conference ASCO over the weekend, but vaccines made news too. Not all the developments were positive, though.

Researchers from the United Kingdom reported weak Phase III results for a telomerase peptide vaccine, GV1001, in pancreatic cancer patients. The Cancer Research UK-backed trial failed to show a significant improvement in overall survival over standard chemotherapy. GV1001 flunked a Phase III back in 2008 too. Even after two setbacks, the company that currently owns the rights to the vaccine, Korean biotech KAEL-GemVax, thinks it has a future. The latest trial identified two possible biomarkers that could correspond to patients who respond to the vaccine. And GV1001 showed anti-inflammatory effects.

Most other cancer vaccines presented at the conference are at earlier stages of development. A Phase I study of Immunovaccine's DPX-Survivac in ovarian cancer patients found T cell immune responses against tumor-associated protein survivin. Immunovaccine is encouraged by Phase I data--believing it is consistent with a vaccine that could impact disease progression--and is now planning to advance DPX-Survivac.

Vaccine adjuvant GM-CSF (granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor) showed promise too, with U.S. academics reporting it improved overall survival in metastatic melanoma patients. The adjuvant was used in conjunction with Bristol-Myers' immune-stimulating agent Yervoy and improved survival in the 245-person Phase II trial. After one year, more than two-thirds of patients taking the combination were still alive, compared to half who took Yervoy alone. Sanofi's ($SNY) GM-CSF, Leukine, was used in combination with Yervoy.

"The result of the E1608 study provided another important sign that immunotherapy can have a big impact for patients with advanced melanoma. At the same time, we still need to clarify the best way to apply these findings in everyday practice," Dana-Farber's Dr. Stephen Hodi said at ASCO.

- read FierceBiotech's GV1001 article
- here's the Immunovaccine release
- check out FierceBiotech's Yervoy piece

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