AZ’s cancer drug fails again, Roche’s rival gets new use

AstraZeneca’s immunotherapy Imfinzi has failed in another late stage study, while Roche’s rival Tecentriq combination has been approved in the sought-after first line lung cancer indication.

Cancer immunotherapies have produced some patchy trial results, and Imfinzi is no exception. This latest set of data from the phase 3 EAGLE study in advanced head and neck cancer showed Imfinzi (durvalumab) did not improve overall survival compared with standard chemotherapy.

The failure comes after last month’s confirmation that Imfinzi also failed to improve overall survival in first line lung cancer in combination with tremelimumab, an outcome that was expected after interim results last year showed the drug had failed to slow progression compared with standard care.

AZ is still pressing on with development of Imfinzi, an anti PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor, and is investigating combinations with various other drugs in several different cancers to try and make it more effective.

Developed by AZ’s biologics arm, MedImmune, Imfinzi is already FDA approved in unresectable stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer, and in previously treated patients with advanced bladder cancer.

The news was better for Roche’s rival anti PD-L1 drug, Tecentriq (atezolizumab), which has gained FDA approval in the lucrative first-line lung cancer indication in combination with the company’s older cancer drug Avastin (bevacizumab) and paclitaxel and carboplatin chemotherapy.

Merck & Co’s Keytruda has become established as a new standard of care in first line lung cancer, an indication which is worth billions of dollars in sales to pharma companies.

Tecentriq was approved in patients with metastatic non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer, without EGFR or ALK tumour mutations, after a trial showed it improved overall survival compared with Avastin and chemotherapy.

Results from the IMpower150 study showed patients on the Tecentriq combination lived for a median 19.2 months compared with 14.7 months for those treated with the Avastin combination.

Tecentriq is already approved in NSCLC after chemotherapy has failed, and two bladder cancer indications.

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