Category Archives: drug

Cancer Immunotherapies Attracting Interest

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of cancer immunotherapies, particularly the use of patients’ own immune system to target tumors. Just look at CancerVax, Cell Genesys, Favrille, and Genitope. One of the major obstacles has been eliciting a strong enough immune response to adequately treat the cancer. Another is identifying the right molecular targets to attack only the tumor cells. Nonetheless, cancer immunotherapies appear to be attracting interest according to Trading Markets.

The FDA approved Dendreon’s cancer vaccine, Provenge, last year for the treatment of prostate cancer. Dendreon’s market cap is now over $4.5 billion. More recently, Amgen acquired BioVex for its oncolytic virus, OncoVex, currently in Phase 3 trials to treat metastatic melanoma and head and neck cancer. Amgen agreed to pay up to $1 billion for BioVex depending on sales milestones. Immunocellular Therapeutics just raised $8.1 million in a PIPE to complete a Phase 2 trial for its dendritic cell vaccine, ICT-107, to treat gliobastoma.

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Where’s the R&D?

Traditionally, R&D has been considered a core asset for drug companies, both large and small. But commercial drug companies now appear to be reconsidering the value of their R&D organizations. Both Sanofi-Aventis and Valeant Pharmaceuticals recently announced cutting their R&D budgets in half. The moves are not entirely surprising. R&D productivity has been declining over the past several years, and internally developed compounds have a lower rate of success when compared to licensed compounds (Leerink Swann, March 4, 2009). As the risks and costs of drug development increase, more drug companies will likely reduce internal programs and essentially “outsource” R&D, so that management can focus resources on commercial development. One thing is for certain: look for licensing/partnering activity to expand significantly.