Parisian Biotech’s Drug Improves Liver Cancer Survival… But Not Much

17/01/2018 - 2 minutes

Ipsen’s cancer drug cabozantinib improved the survival of patients suffering from hepatocellular carcinoma in a Phase III trial. But just for a couple of months.

French pharma Ipsen has been strengthening its oncology portfolio in the last few years. In 2016, it licensed the small molecule drug cabozantinib from US biotech Exelixis. Today, it has announced the results of a Phase III trials that will support an application to the EMA for European approval.

The clinical study, called CELESTIAL, showed that cabozantinib had a statistically significant effect on the survival of patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma that had already been treated with one or two previous therapies, unsuccessfully.

However, the change was only from a median survival of 8 months for the placebo to 10.2 months for the drug. Not that much of a change, especially when considering the high — and rapidly rising — prices of cancer drugs in Europe.

A recent study published in the BMJ called out the EMA about the fact that 57% of the drugs it approved between 2009 and 2013 did not show evidence of a benefit in survival and quality of life. And for those that did, the median improvement was just 2.7 months.

Ipsen, in collaboration with Exelixis, is now planning to file an EMA application in the first half of 2018. Given its track record, it’s likely that it will be approved. But it might be a good opportunity to reflect on the real value of cancer research directed at making small improvements for a big profit.

Hopefully, pharma will start shifting toward new technologies where biotech can bring more tangible effects. Checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapy have already shown some impressive effects in people with no other treatment options for their cancer. Though they also come with their own pricing challenges.

Images via Groundback Atelier, Massimo Vernicesole /Shutterstock


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