A cover story in today’s New York Times features a new and very promising cancer drug, CTL019 from Novartis. Kiplinger Alerts subscribers knew about this months in advance — because Kiplinger’s Martha Craver wrote about it on January 6th. See the original Kiplinger Alerts article below.
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Promising Cancer Drugs Coming Soon
The war on cancer is on the verge of getting a number of new weapons. Many of them involve a novel approach known as immunotherapy, in which the body’s own immune system is engaged to fight the cancer.
One emerging immunotherapy treatment, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, could be approved this year. CAR-T therapy involves genetically altering a patient’s T-cells — a type of white blood cell — to help the immune system find and kill cancer cells. The modified cells are infused into the patient after they are altered in the lab.
Kite Pharma and Novartis are in a close race for first approval from the Food & Drug Administration. The drug from Kite, axicabtagene ciloleucel, is a treatment for patients with an aggressive from of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In early clinical trials, 47% of patients had complete remission. The company also is investigating its use to treat other cancers, including lymphoblastic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma.
In clinical trials of patients with lymphoblastic leukemia whose cancer had returned or didn’t respond to other treatments, 82% were disease-free three months after treatment with the Novartis drug CTL019. Other companies with CAR-T drugs in development include June Therapeutics, Bellicum and Cellectis.
Serious side effects from CAR-T drugs have slowed development. Cytokine-release syndrome is the most worrisome. It stimulates the immune system too much, leading to dangerously high fevers and drops in blood pressure. But for most patients the side effects are mild and easily managed.
Combo treatments, using two or more new immunotherapy drugs or pairing an immunotherapy drug with a more traditional therapy or chemotherapy regimen, are next.
Bristol-Meyers Squibb has a number of trials ongoing that pair its two approved immunotherapies, Optivo and Yervoy, with other drugs for various cancers. BMS is combining Optivo and Yervoy in trials for small-cell lung cancer, kidney cancer as well as head and neck cancers. Other BMS trials include pairing one of the drugs with a cancer vaccine made by Bavarian Nordic for treatment of prostate and lung cancers.
Another approved immunotherapy drug, Keytruda from Merck, is also being tested in combination with other therapies for stomach and prostate cancers, among others. AstraZeneca is partnering with TapImmune to test its immunotherapy drug durvalumab with TapImmune’s vaccine for ovarian cancer.
There are many other promising cancer drugs in the pipeline. For advanced breast cancer, Eli Lilly and Novartis have new products that may get FDA approval in 2018. Both ribociclib from Novartis and abemaciclib from Lilly are from a new class of drugs that help slow the growth of cancer cells. A similar drug, Ibrance from Pfizer, is already on the market.
Other drugs, known as PARP inhibitors, suppress tumor regrowth after chemotherapy. Several of these drugs may get the nod in the next year or two: AstraZeneca’s Lynparza for breast and prostate cancers, Tesaro’s niraparib for recurrent ovarian cancer and Pfizer’s talazoparib for advanced breast cancer.
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