January 5, 2017 / 12:33 PM / in 7 months

Halozyme's pancreatic cancer drug succeeds in mid-stage trial

(Reuters) - Halozyme Therapeutics Inc said its lead experimental drug, in tandem with therapies from Celgene Corp and Eli Lilly and Co, succeeded in a mid-stage study involving patients with an advanced form of pancreatic cancer.

Halozyme's PEGPH20, in combination with Celgene's Abraxane and Lilly's gemcitabine, provided a statistically significant benefit in helping patients with high levels of hyaluronan (HA) live longer without their cancer worsening.

PEGPH20 is an enzyme that targets and degrades HA, a chain of natural sugars found on human tissue that can accumulate in higher concentrations around certain cancer cells and potentially constrict blood vessels and impede other therapies.

Halozyme's shares rose as much as 16.3 percent to $12.43.

The data confirmed for the first time that high HA patients will have a meaningfully greater response when PEGPH20 is added to their treatment, said Dr. Sunil Hingorani, the study's principal investigator. [Pn2RDmZDa]

In Halozyme's trials so far, about 35 to 40 percent of pancreatic cancer patients have elevated HA levels, Chief Executive Helen Torley told Reuters.

PEGPH20 has a checkered past. In 2014, Halozyme halted the trial over concerns of a potential difference in the rate of blood clots found in patients receiving its treatment against those on approved cancer drugs.

The clinical hold was eventually lifted after the trial design was amended to exclude patients with high risk of blood clots. (reut.rs/2iHLXOG)

The latest data bodes well for a separate late-stage study in pancreatic cancer examining a similar high-HA population and treatment regimen in a larger group of 420 patients, Piper Jaffray analyst Charles Duncan said in a client note.

Duncan raised his target price by $2 to $20.

Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, killing about 41,780 people in 2016, according to the American Cancer Society.

PEGPH20 is also being tested in combination with Merck & Co Inc's Keytruda for gastric cancer and the most common form of lung cancer. It is also being evaluated for use in breast cancer in combination with Eisai Co Ltd's Halaven.

Reporting by Akankshita Mukhopadhyay and Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Ted Kerr

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