Noted This Week

May 17–23

Merck will buy Peloton Therapeutics for $1.05 billion up front in a deal that could earn Peloton up to $1.15 billion more in milestone payments. Merck will gain access to Peloton’s experimental molecular therapies including PT2977, a HIF2α inhibitor that has shown promise in treating metastatic renal cell carcinoma in early-stage trials.

The U.S. District Court in Boston, MA, ruled that two U.S. scientists should be listed as inventors on six cancer immunotherapy patents. The court determined that the patents, previously issued to Ono Pharmaceutical and Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan, should also include Gordon Freeman, PhD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, and Clive Wood, PhD, of Boehringer Ingelheim. The patents, which describe the PD-1 pathway, were foundational to the development of the PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab (Opdivo; Bristol-Myers Squibb).

Array BioPharma announced that the BRAF/MEK inhibitor combination encorafenib (Braftovi)/binimetinib (Mektovi) plus the anti-EGFR antibody cetuximab (Erbitux; Eli Lilly) may improve survival in patients with BRAFV600E-mutant metastatic colorectal cancer who have not responded to other therapies. In the phase III BEACON CRC trial, patients treated with the triplet had an overall response rate (ORR) of 26.1% and a median overall survival (OS) of 9 months, compared with 1.9% and 5.4 months in patients who received cetuximab plus chemotherapy; patients treated with encorafenib plus cetuximab had an ORR of 20.4% and a median OS of 8.4 months.

Dynavax Technologies will discontinue development of its immune-oncology candidates—and lay off 82 employees, about 37% of its workforce—to focus on its vaccine business, which includes the hepatitis B vaccine Heplisav-B. The company has two toll-like receptor 9 cancer drugs in clinical development: SD-101, which is being tested in combination with the PD-1 inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda; Merck) in various cancers, and DV281, which is being studied in combination with nivolumab in non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Pembrolizumab monotherapy may not be an effective second- or third-line treatment for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. In the phase III KEYNOTE-119 trial, the drug did not extend OS compared with standard chemotherapy. Pembrolizumab is approved as a monotherapy for various other cancers, including melanoma and NSCLC.

Artificial intelligence may be able to detect malignant lung nodules as well as or better than radiologists, according to findings published in Nature Medicine. Researchers developed and trained a deep-learning model using 42,290 CT scans from 14,851 patients who were screened for lung cancer. They found that the algorithm was 94% accurate at detecting the nodules and had fewer false positives and negatives than radiologists when prior imaging was not available; the system performed as well as radiologists when there were prior imaging results.

The FDA approved the NovoTTF-100L System (Novocure) in combination with pemetrexed and platinum-based chemotherapy as a first-line therapy for patients with locally advanced or metastatic malignant pleural mesothelioma who can’t have surgery. The approval was based on the single-arm STELLAR trial, in which patients who received the therapy had a median OS of 18.2 months. The system uses tumor treating fields—low-intensity alternating electric fields that interfere with the division of cancer cells.


Research Watch