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ASCO PREVIEW: A focus on prostate drugs, targeted therapy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Novel therapies that can prolong the lives of patients with prostate cancer will be in focus as leading oncologists gather this week in Chicago.

The annual congress of the American Society of Clinical Oncology runs June 1-5. This year’s conference will also highlight progress for drugs that target genetic abnormalities found in a variety of malignant tumors.

Key data will be presented from trials of newer prostate cancer drugs, including Johnson & Johnson’s Zytiga (abiraterone acetate) and Dendreon Corp’s Provenge (sipuleucel-T), as well as experimental drugs from Medivation Inc and Bayer AG.

“There are several more drugs that have a high likelihood of impacting survival from prostate cancer in the next decade,” said Dr. Johann de Bono, professor of experimental cancer research at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital. “Patients are living longer now than ever before,” added Dr. de Bono, a researcher involved in the Medivation trial, among others.

Prostate cancer kills about 250,000 men a year globally and the market for treating the disease is expected to reach more than $10 billion in 2020, according to market research firm Decision Resources.

J&J’s Zytiga is already approved to treat advanced prostate cancer in patients who previously received chemotherapy. A trial testing whether the drug helps men with metastatic cancer who have not yet undergone chemo was stopped early in March after it became clear Zytiga was effective.

Zytiga costs about $5000 a month.

Investors are keen to see the full survival results from the Zytiga trial as they weigh commercial prospects for competitors such as Provenge, a therapeutic vaccine that costs $93,000 for a course of treatment, Medivation’s enzalutamide, which interferes with the ability of testosterone to bind to prostate cells, and Bayer’s alpharadin, which delivers minute, highly-charged doses of radiation to secondary tumors in the bone.

The new clinical trial results come as U.S. doctors debate how widely to screen for prostate cancer. A task force advising the U.S. government recently recommended against routine screening for levels of prostate specific antigen, arguing that such testing has resulted in needless and often harmful treatment for thousands of men.

DRUG SHORTAGES, ACCESS TO CARE

In addition to the prostate cancer news, the ASCO conference will feature new studies on drugs designed to block cancer cell growth, as well as updates on cancer drug shortages and trends in patient access to key therapies given factors such as age, race or insurance coverage.

“We are really getting away from treating the organ,” said Dr. Nicholas Vogelzang, chairman of ASCO’s cancer communications committee, referring to the latest research on genetic mutations that offer targets for blocking the growth of malignant cells.

Ariad Pharmaceuticals Inc will present data on its experimental leukemia drug ponatinib, which is designed to target an abnormal enzyme closely associated with certain types of the blood and bone marrow cancer.

Oncothyreon Inc will have updates on several mid-stage trials of its experimental compound PX-866, a drug from a class known as PI-3 kinase inhibitors designed to block enzymes involved in cellular functions. The targeted drug is being tested in patients with cancers of the lung, colon, prostate, brain, head and neck.

Companies including Novartis AG and Roche Holding AG are developing cancer drugs aimed at the same target.

Roche is also due to unveil key data from a trial in breast cancer patients treated with experimental drug TDM-1, which uses the company’s antibody drug, Herceptin (trastuzumab), to deliver a powerful chemotherapy directly to cancer cells.

A similar concept underlies trial data to be presented by Seattle Genetics Inc and others.

“This platform is beginning to yield results,” said Sandra Horning, head of global development for oncology at Roche’s Genentech unit. She said Roche is currently testing so-called armed antibodies in eight human trials and has 25 in earlier stages of development.