Endocyte's Dx spots ovarian and lung cancer patients ripe for Merck drug

Endocyte's ($ECYT) diagnostic imaging agent etarfolatide is getting the job done in ongoing clinical studies. Researchers say they proved it can properly identify ovarian cancer and non-small lung cancer patients who could benefit the most from a particular kind of drug.

The Indiana-based company presented study results at the recent AACR-SNMMI Joint Conference on State-of-the-Art Molecular Imaging in Cancer Biology and Therapy in San Diego.

The diagnostic agent (used with folic acid to enhance imaging quality) identified patients with both cancers for whom folate receptor-targeted drugs would work best. And the company is working with Merck ($MRK) to help it advance vintafolide, an investigational anticancer treatment that combines the chemotherapy drug vinblastine with the vitamin folic acid, which targets the folate receptor.

In the study, the researchers determined both in lab and other tests that etarfolatide bonded well to the folate receptor, regardless of specific cell type. Separately, etarfolatide's binding specificity to cells or its accumulation inside tumors depended directly on folate receptor expression--a good sign that the diagnostic imaging agent worked as planned in gravitating toward its target substance. Subsequently, folate receptor subgroup patients in the study, once targeted with the vintafolide treatment, showed a greater improvement in their cancer control rates. And cancerous lesions that were folate receptor-positive responded better to the vintafolide than folate receptor-negative lesions, pointing to vintafolide as working well with folate receptor-positive cancers.

While more clinical studies are needed, it is encouraging to know that etarfolatide works well enough as a companion diagnostic to identify folate-specific cancer tissues that would respond to treatment--a key advancement in the field of personalized medicine.

- read the release

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