Drug Development

Amgen buries the last big CETP drug, marking the bitter end of a blockbuster quest

Amgen used its Q3 report today to quickly bury the last broadly focused CETP drug in the clinic, closing the final chapter in an R&D story that consumed billions of dollars in a fruitless chase by some of the biggest developers in the business for a major new heart drug.

Sean Harper

Two years ago, when Amgen $AMGN R&D chief Sean Harper unveiled a $1.55 billion deal to buy Dezima — fronted with $300 million in cash— he happily speculated on the potential of adding another blockbuster to the cardio portfolio. The right CETP inhibition therapy, he felt, could have a big future by lowering LDL and raising HDL. And he was hopeful the new mid-stage drug he had just purchased could fit the bill.

Within weeks of the deal, though, Eli Lilly threw in the towel on its massive Phase III for its own CETP drug, evacetrapib. That followed a billion-dollar write-off for Pfizer’s rival Phase III, which also flopped. And Roche had already walked away.

It looked so bad that former Pfizer R&D chief John LaMattina suggested that Amgen might be better off cutting its losses just weeks after the deal was done.

The execution notice, though, didn’t arrive until today, not long after Merck had written off its own big Phase III for anacetrapib. Merck stunned the cardio field with the news that the drug had actually registered positive results, but the level of improvement was so marginal, the pharma giant ended up walking away after testing it in more than 30,000 patients.

There is, though, still one CETP drug in the clinic called dalcetrapib, from a London-based company called DalCor. After failing a major Roche study, the drug was scrapped — then investigators linked the therapy to a strong benefit for a subgroup of patients with a certain genotype. Now DalCor is pursuing Phase III with 5,000 patients, looking for a targeted effect that could salvage value yet.

Amgen’s decision virtually eliminates raising HDL as a key to cutting cardio risks for a big market, though. The field now is focused primarily on slashing LDL, where Amgen has been pushing hard in searching for a big new market for the PCSK9 drug Repatha.


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