Cancer immunotherapy partners face big test with Phase III program

Merck KGaA and Oncothyreon ($ONTY) will learn soon whether their lung cancer vaccine has a shot at being one of the next bright lights in the cancer immunotherapy arena, with an interim analysis set for this quarter expected to determine whether the pivotal trial for the program will continue, Reuters reported.

Cancer immunotherapies are among the most closely watched in oncology, and the approvals of Dendreon's ($DNDN) Provenge and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Yervoy have given developers of the immune-stimulating agents some faith that commercial opportunities—however fraught with challenges in the case of Provenge—await.

For Oncothyreon's lung cancer vaccine Stimuvax, which it licensed to Merck, the commercial prospects of the experimental treatment will be tested with the interim analysis. The analysis, which takes place once a certain number of patients in the trial have died, will determine whether the drug is working and the big trial should continue, or that its lack of effectiveness doesn't warrant further study, Reuters reported. The 1,514-patient study is testing whether Stimuvax provides at least a 6-month improvement in survival in people newly diagnosed with lung cancer.

"We would be perfectly content if the decision is to continue the trial to its end," Oncothyreon CEO Robert Kirkman told Reuters. "We still expect to have top-line data in 2012. If the trial continues, we would have those results in the second half."

If Stimuvax falls short, there are a bevy of players in the cancer immunotherapy field such as Roche ($RHHBY), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and smaller outfits that are making progress with their own programs.

- get more in the Reuters article