GlaxoSmithKline admits defeat in PhIII cancer vaccine trial

Less than two weeks ago, after its cancer vaccine flopped in a Phase III lung cancer trial, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) said it would continue looking for improvements among patients with a certain genetic makeup. But no longer: The British drugmaker has put the kibosh on the trial, establishing that it won't be possible to ID a subpopulation that will benefit.

Following its primary endpoint miss last month, analysts said the MAGE-A3 vaccine had little chance to succeed in lung cancer. Still, Vincent Brichard, GSK's SVP and head of immunotherapeutics, said the company was "extremely disappointed" with the result.

"We hope that the data generated in this trial will advance our understanding of the science of immunotherapeutics, and ultimately towards development of new therapies," he said in a statement.

Analysts once predicted big things for MAGE-A3, a novel immunotherapeutic vaccine Glaxo developed with an assist from Agenus ($AGEN). But the shot has also missed its spot in Phase III trials as a treatment for melanoma, which in the first place boasts a commercial opportunity only 20% to 30% that of lung cancer, Citi analysts told Reuters. At this point, GSK's only hope for the jab is in melanoma subpopulations.

That's not to say other drugmakers haven't fared well in the immunotherapy space. Candidates from Merck ($MRK), Roche ($RHHBY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) have all impressed in clinical trials, successfully boosting the immune system to recognize and eradicate cancer cells.

But unlike its peers, Glaxo opted to try blazing the immunotherapy trail with a vaccine--one that's now inching closer and closer to the cancer vaccine graveyard. Several once-promising oncology jabs have met their end in the clinic; even some of those that have grabbed regulatory approval have struggled on the market, with tales like that of Dendreon's ($DNDN) Provenge leaving some investors leery.

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