Sci­en­tists find un­ex­pect­ed an­ti-can­cer ac­tiv­i­ty in range of non-on­col­o­gy drugs — study

As the sec­ond lead­ing cause of mor­tal­i­ty glob­al­ly, the lu­cra­tive field of can­cer treat­ment has elicit­ed a fren­zy of drug de­vel­op­ment and bil­lions in ven­ture fund­ing. But a new study sug­gests that can­cer-killing com­pounds may be lurk­ing in the ex­ist­ing ar­se­nal of non-on­col­o­gy med­i­cines.

By an­a­lyz­ing thou­sands of FDA-ap­proved drugs and com­pounds that have been proven safe in clin­i­cal tri­als, sci­en­tists at the Broad In­sti­tute of MIT and Har­vard and Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute found near­ly 50 com­pounds — in­clud­ing drugs for di­a­betes, in­flam­ma­tion, al­co­holism and even a treat­ment for arthri­tis in dogs — with pre­vi­ous­ly un­de­tect­ed an­ti-can­cer ac­tiv­i­ty.

Todd Gol­ub

“We thought we’d be lucky if we found even a sin­gle com­pound with an­ti-can­cer prop­er­ties, but we were sur­prised to find so many,” said Todd Gol­ub, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer and di­rec­tor of the Can­cer Pro­gram at the Broad, Charles A. Dana In­ves­ti­ga­tor in Hu­man Can­cer Ge­net­ics at Dana-Far­ber, and pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at Har­vard Med­ical School, in a state­ment.

The study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Can­cer, em­ployed the Broad’s Drug Re­pur­pos­ing Hub, an­a­lyz­ing 4,518 drugs against 578 hu­man can­cer cell lines from the Broad’s Can­cer Cell Line En­cy­clo­pe­dia. Af­ter tag­ging each cell line with a DNA bar­code, the re­searchers ex­posed each pool of bar­cod­ed cells to a sin­gle com­pound from the re­pur­pos­ing li­brary and mea­sured the sur­vival rate of can­cer cells.

Some of the can­cer-slay­ing com­pounds kill in un­fore­seen ways, study lead au­thor Steven Corsel­lo said. Corsel­lo is an on­col­o­gist at Dana-Far­ber and founder of the Drug Re­pur­pos­ing Hub.

Most ex­ist­ing can­cer drugs work by sti­fling pro­teins — but some of the can­cer-killing com­pounds Corsel­lo et al came across ap­peared to work by ac­ti­vat­ing a pro­tein or sta­bi­liz­ing a pro­tein-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tion. For ex­am­ple, the team found that near­ly a dozen non-on­col­o­gy drugs killed can­cer cells that ex­press a pro­tein called PDE3A by sta­bi­liz­ing the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween PDE3A and an­oth­er pro­tein called SLFN12.

Steven Corsel­lo

The re­sults of the analy­sis — which scoured near­ly half of all drugs ever test­ed in hu­mans — sug­gests that some non-on­col­o­gy drugs could be tak­en straight in­to clin­i­cal test­ing in can­cer pa­tients, al­though sci­en­tists will need to en­sure the can­cer culling ac­tiv­i­ty of these drugs is ob­served at con­cen­tra­tions that are tol­er­a­ble in hu­mans. It is al­so im­per­a­tive to con­firm that the pre­dic­tive bio­mark­ers iden­ti­fied in cell lines rep­re­sent dis­tinct pop­u­la­tions of hu­man tu­mors, the re­searchers cau­tioned.

“In con­trast to the repo­si­tion­ing of ex­ist­ing drugs for new in­di­ca­tions, the…re­sults re­port­ed here al­so rep­re­sent start­ing points for new drug de­vel­op­ment. In par­tic­u­lar, when the an­ti-can­cer ac­tiv­i­ty of a drug oc­curs via an off-tar­get mech­a­nism, it is like­ly that fur­ther op­ti­miza­tion for this new tar­get will re­sult in more po­tent and se­lec­tive drug can­di­dates,” the re­searchers wrote.

Re­pur­pos­ing drugs on pur­pose (or by ac­ci­dent) has yield­ed some suc­cess — that the process in­volves large­ly de-risked com­pounds, low­er de­vel­op­men­tal costs, and briefer time­lines don’t hurt ei­ther.

Aside from as­pirin’s car­dio­vas­cu­lar ben­e­fits, Vi­a­gra is an­oth­er heav­i­ly cit­ed ex­am­ple. The drug was orig­i­nal­ly be­ing test­ed as a treat­ment for coro­nary hy­per­ten­sion — but a pesky side ef­fect felt by pa­tients in tri­als cul­mi­nat­ed in its even­tu­al ap­proval as an erec­tile dys­func­tion drug.

Then there’s the seda­tive thalido­mide — which gained no­to­ri­ety af­ter its link to se­vere skele­tal birth de­fects trig­gered its with­draw­al in 1957. How­ev­er, years lat­er it was deemed ef­fec­tive as a can­cer treat­ment, even breed­ing the de­vel­op­ment and ap­proval of even more suc­cess­ful de­riv­a­tives, such as Cel­gene’s block­buster Revlim­id.

Mean­while, Mer­ck’s Vioxx — which was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly tak­en off shelves af­ter its link to dou­bling pa­tients’ risk of heart at­tack and stroke emerged — could resur­face as a gener­ic treat­ment for a side ef­fect ex­pe­ri­enced by he­mo­phil­ia pa­tients.

But akin to tra­di­tion­al drug de­vel­op­ment, drug re­pur­pos­ing has al­so seen its share of set­backs. Two ex­am­ples of late-stage fail­ures in­clude a bid to use the an­ti­his­t­a­mine, la­trepir­dine, as a treat­ment for Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease, as well as the pur­suit of re­pur­pos­ing the an­tibi­ot­ic, cef­tri­ax­one, as a med­i­cine for ALS.

Sanofi brings in 4 new ex­ec­u­tives in con­tin­ued shake-up, as vac­cines and con­sumer health chief head out the door

In the middle of Sanofi’s multi-pronged race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, David Loew, the head of their sprawling vaccines unit, is leaving – part of the final flurry of moves in the French giant’ months-long corporate shuffle that will give them new-look leadership under new CEO Paul Hudson.

The company also said today that Alan Main, the head of their consumer healthcare unit, is out, and they named 4 executives to fill new or newly vacated positions, 3 of whom come from both outside both Sanofi and from Pharma.

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As­traZeneca trum­pets the 'mo­men­tous' da­ta they found for Tagris­so in an ad­ju­vant set­ting for NSCLC — but many of the ex­perts aren’t cheer­ing along

AstraZeneca is rolling out the big guns this evening to provide a salute to their ADAURA data on Tagrisso at ASCO.

Cancer R&D chief José Baselga calls the disease-free survival data for their drug in an adjuvant setting of early stage, epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated NSCLC patients following surgery “momentous.” Roy Herbst, the principal investigator out of Yale, calls it “transformative.”

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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Ab­b­Vie wins an ap­proval in uter­ine fi­broid-as­so­ci­at­ed heavy bleed­ing. Are ri­vals My­ovant and Ob­sE­va far be­hind?

Women expel on average about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during their time of the month. But with uterine fibroids, heavy bleeding is typical — a third of a cup or more. Drugmakers have been working on oral therapies to try and stem the flow, and as expected, AbbVie and their partners at Neurocrine Biosciences are the first to make it across the finish line.

Known chemically as elagolix, the drug is already approved as a treatment for endometriosis under the brand name Orilissa. It targets the GnRH receptor to decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone.

David Chang, Allogene CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Head­ed to PhII: Al­lo­gene CEO David Chang com­pletes a pos­i­tive ear­ly snap­shot of their off-the-shelf CAR-T pi­o­neer

Allogene CEO David Chang has completed the upbeat first portrait of the biotech’s off-the-shelf CAR-T contender ALLO-501 at virtual ASCO today, keeping all eyes on a drug that will now try to go on to replace the first-wave personalized pioneers he helped create.

The overall response rate outlined in Allogene’s abstract for treatment-resistant patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma slipped a little from the leadup, but if you narrow the patient profile to treatment-naïve patients — removing the 3 who had previous CAR-T therapy who didn’t respond, leaving 16 — the ORR lands at 75% with a 44% complete response rate. And 9 of the 12 responders remained in response at the data cutoff, offering a glimpse on durability that still has a long way to go before it can be completely nailed down.

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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As­traZeneca’s $7B ADC suc­ceeds where Roche failed, im­prov­ing sur­vival in gas­tric can­cer

Another day, another win for Enhertu.

The antibody-drug conjugate AstraZeneca promised up-to $7 billion to partner on has had a quite a few months, beginning with splashy results in a Phase II breast cancer trial, a rapid approval and, earlier this month, breakthrough designations in both non-small cell lung cancer and gastric cancer.

Now, at ASCO, the British pharma and their Japanese partner, Daiichi Sankyo, have shown off the data that led to the gastric cancer designation, which they’ll take back to the FDA. In a pivotal, 187-person Phase II trial, Enhertu shrunk tumors in 42.9% of third-line patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer, compared with 12.5% in a control arm where doctors prescribed their choice of therapy. Progression-free survival was 5.4 months for Enhertu compared to 3.5 months for the control.