GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) has stopped a high-profile clinical trial using a novel vaccine to fight lung cancer after deciding it will not be possible to find a sub-group of patients who might benefit.
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The decision comes less than two weeks after GSK said the MAGE-A3 therapeutic vaccine did not help patients with non-small cell lung cancer in the Phase III study overall, but it was still looking for improvements among patients with a particular genetic profile.
In the event, scientists analyzing the trial decided there was insufficient treatment effect to pinpoint benefit in such gene-signature patients.
Vincent Brichard, head of immunotherapeutics at GSK Vaccines, who announced the decision on Wednesday, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the result.
Identifying a sub-group for whom MAGE-A3 would work had been considered a long shot by investors. Nonetheless, Citi analyst Andrew Baum said the latest setback removed "important optionality" for future sales and profits.
A second trial testing the vaccine in melanoma, which also failed to help patients overall, will continue to investigate benefits in sub-populations. However, the commercial opportunity in melanoma is only 20 to 30 percent that of lung cancer, according to Citi.
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The outcome of the melanoma research is expected in 2015.
Unlike traditional preventative vaccines, the MAGE-A3 treatment was designed for people with established disease, helping their immune systems to prevent the return of disease after surgery.
Other companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Roche Holding AG and Merck & Co Inc, have had some recent notable successes in clinical trials of innovative drugs to boost the immune system, but GSK's vaccine-based approach is different and has met with less success.
Shares in Britain's biggest drugmaker were 0.7 percent lower at 0750 GMT, underperforming a 0.3 percent decline in the European drugs sector..
MAGE-A3 is one of two high-risk, high-reward research projects that GSK has invested heavily in over recent years - so far, to little avail.
Its experimental heart drug darapladib, which fights clogged arteries in a novel way, has also failed to hit its goals in a late-stage clinical trial, although GSK still hopes a second study may succeed.
U.S.-based Agenus Inc has contributed technology to GSK's MAGE-A3 vaccine and its shares are sensitive to news on the project. The vaccine contains Agenus' QS-21 Stimulon adjuvant, or booster.