Targovax tumbles after chemotherapy cocktail data dent pancreatic cancer plans

Oslo, Norway, near to where Targovax is based. (CC0 Creative Commons)

Targovax has hit pause on its neoantigen vaccine R&D strategy after seeing independent data that will redefine the standard of care in resected pancreatic cancer. The leap forward in the treatment of the disease forced Targovax to rethink its strategy and pull out of a planned phase 2 trial. 

Norway-based Targovax was gearing up to test the vaccine, TG01, in combination with gemcitabine and capecitabine. When Targovax designed the trial, that chemotherapy cocktail was a go-to option for physicians treating patients after pancreatic cancer surgery. But data presented earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology suggested its days are numbered. The four-drug modified Folfirinox regimen improved overall survival by 19 months over gemcitabine.

The performance of Folfirinox means that it, not gemcitabine, is the standard by which all treatments for resected pancreatic cancer will be compared. It is doubtful whether adding TG01 to gemcitabine and capecitabine would beat the 54 month OS achieved by Folfirinox. Faced with that fact, Targovax has pulled the plug on the phase 2 trial and called time out on the development of TG01.

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Targovax is still deciding the next steps for TG01 and the wider TG program. Management sees a future for the anti-RAS neoantigen platform and a phase 1 trial of follow-up asset TG02 in colorectal cancer is continuing toward a 2019 readout.

The future for TG01 is less clear. Targovax will spend the next few months talking to its clinical advisers with a view to presenting a revised TG development plan in the fall.

The silver lining of the enforced strategic rethink is that Targovax has freed up money for its ONCOS oncolytic adenovirus program. As Targovax noted in its release, oncolytic viruses are back in fashion, with Johnson & Johnson and Merck both striking recent deals to add such drugs to their armories.

Targovax has taken its oncolytic virus, ONCOS-102, as far as a phase 2 mesothelioma trial. Armed with resources originally allocated to TG01, Targovax is looking into expanding the mesothelioma trial.

Shares in Targovax fell 21% following the news.

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