Cancer, Drug Development, Results, Setbacks

AstraZeneca’s prized Imfinzi/tremelimumab combo fails again — this time in head and neck cancer

AstraZeneca’s big bet on a combination of its checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi and in-house CTLA-4 drug has proved exceedingly costly. The British drugmaker conceded on Friday that the combination had failed to improve overall survival in certain patients with head and neck cancer, in addition to the big flop in the keenly-watched MYSTIC lung cancer trial reported last month.

The combination — once touted as the cornerstone of AstraZeneca’s $AZN checkpoint development strategy — did not meet the main goal of helping patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) whose disease had spread despite platinum-based chemotherapy live longer, when compared to standard chemotherapy.

The late-stage EAGLE trial was testing Imfinzi monotherapy, as well as the combination of Imfinzi and tremelimumab, versus standard-of-care chemotherapy. Neither the monotherapy nor the combination met the main goals of improving overall survival, the company said, without offering further detail on the results, or providing any data on secondary endpoints such as progression-free survival.

But the company was insistent it may still find a way forward for the combination.

Sean Bohen

“While these results are disappointing, we remain committed to evaluating the potential of Imfinzi and other innovative medicines for patients with head and neck cancer. We look forward to seeing the results of the Phase III KESTREL trial of Imfinzi and tremelimumab in patients who have not received prior chemotherapy for recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in the first half of 2019,” chief medical officer Sean Bohen said in a statement.

While AstraZeneca’s pipeline has often come up short, there have been a string of major successes in oncology for the company that have inspired a return to sales growth after years of shrinking revenue. This Imfinzi/tremelimumab combination, however, was considered critical to putting the brakes on the blitzing gains Merck $MRK and Bristol-Myers Squibb $BMY have made after establishing their lead in the lucrative frontline cancer field. The company has also recently reported a string of setbacks for its respiratory drugs, capping a year of hits-and-misses for CEO Pascal Soriot, who as rumor has it, may be on his way out.

Image: Pascal Soriot. AP IMAGES

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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