Genentech steps into spotlight with closely-watched cancer immunotherapy

Genentech has stepped into the spotlight at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, armed with promising data from a small early-stage study of a new immunotherapy cancer drug.

The study for the PD-L1-targeting immunotherapy was small. Only 30 patients with a range of advanced cancers were selected to help establish a maximum tolerated dose--the study's primary objective. But reflecting Genentech's high status in the cancer drug development world and the bullish expectations for immunotherapy, MPDL320A--which is designed to remove one of the brakes on the immune system as it's trained to go after cancer--drew careful scrutiny at the meeting.

Significantly, investigators say they were able to deliver the full dose range without spurring signs of toxicity, helping establish that they can take a high dose forward into Phase II. But in another sign of the times, investigators also detailed evidence of efficacy, something more and more scientists are doing in Phase I. They said that responses have been "durable" and in at least two cases investigators saw signs of complete responses, with the patients continuing to do well without follow-up treatments.

"We saw clear evidence of anti-tumor activity in a broad range of diagnoses, including lung cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer and gastric cancer," said Dr. Michael Gordon, according to Reuters' Bill Berkrot.

Genentech is hoping that its PD-L1 strategy will prove more effective than the PD-1 programs now in development. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), for example, has tapped its PD-1 drug nivolumab as one of the most promising in its late-stage pipeline.

- here's the story from Reuters