May 20, 2010 / 10:19 PM / 9 years ago

Two early-stage Glaxo drugs show melanoma promise

LONDON (Reuters) - Two early-stage drugs from GlaxoSmithKline Plc have shown promise in tests against melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, studies showed on Thursday.

The company’s head of oncology said researchers planned more tests of the so-called MEK and BRAF inhibitors on their own and in combination with each other. The MEK drug will also be tested alongside two other medicines from Novartis AG against various cancers.

The decision to test the MEK agent in a “cocktail” with both Novartis’s established drug Afinitor and an experimental Pi3K drug from the Swiss group mirrors a similar move by AstraZeneca Plc last year to study its MEK compound with an experimental drug from Merck & Co Inc.

Combining experimental-stage drugs in this way is unusual but it may become more common as researchers hunt for better “targeted” treatments to disrupt the multiple signaling pathways that are used by cancer cells to proliferate and grow.

“It’s the way to go in the future,” Paolo Paoletti, Glaxo’s senior vice president for oncology R&D, said in a telephone interview.

“Novartis and ourselves and AstraZeneca and Merck are, I think, giving a good example of collaboration to advance the field of cancer treatment.”

PARTIAL RESPONSES

Scientific abstracts released ahead of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) showed tumors shrank in 18 out of 30 patients with certain gene mutations after taking Glaxo’s BRAF inhibitor in a Phase I/II test.

For the MEK drug, a Phase I study showed five partial responses with greater than 50 percent tumor reduction out of 20 evaluable melanoma patients.

The data will be updated with results from more patients by the time researchers present their findings at the meeting in Chicago next month.

Melanoma is a notoriously difficult cancer to treat and patients with advanced disease have a poor prognosis. But that may be starting to change.

Last September, Roche Holding AG reported impressive results with another BRAF inhibitor, which it is developing with privately-held U.S. biotech company Plexxikon.

Oncologists are also watching eagerly for news of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co’s Phase III drug ipilimumab, which works in a different way. Details of this drug will be presented on site at the ASCO meeting.

Another approach in the fight against melanoma is the use of a vaccine in order to mobilize the body’s immune system against the disease. Glaxo has one such vaccine in final-stage clinical trials.

“I think in melanoma we are reaching a sort of turning-point like there was some years ago with renal (kidney) cancer,” Paoletti said.

Editing by David Holmes

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