Novartis hits PhIII paydirt with promising myeloma drug

Novartis' ($NVS) in-development multiple myeloma candidate, LBH589, hit its primary endpoint of staving off cancer progression in a late-stage study, the company said, stoking hopes the Swiss drugmaker can take first place among a new class of treatments.

In a Phase III study, a cocktail of LBH589, bortezomib and dexamethasone significantly beat out the two old drugs alone in extending progression-free survival, Novartis said. The trial's secondary endpoints include overall survival, overall response rate, duration of response and safety. The company is keeping those results under wraps until it takes the stage at this weekend's American Society of Hematology conference, as per industry custom.

The drug works by blocking both histone and non-histone deacetylase enzymes--abbreviated as HDACs and DACs--putting serious stress on cancer cells until they die, all while leaving healthy cells unmarred. Novartis believes its "pan-DAC" inhibitor stands out among similar efforts from Celgene ($CELG), Acetylon Pharmaceuticals and MorphoSys, and global oncology development head Alessandro Riva said the drug has a chance to change the lives of cancer patients with few other options.

"Given its mechanism of action, LBH589 has the potential to be an important treatment option for multiple myeloma," Riva said in a statement.

LBH589 is among the top prospects over at Novartis' ambitious oncology division, and it's one of 10 pipeline drugs the company's oncology wing plans to launch by 2017. Novartis has picked up three FDA breakthrough therapy designations this year, including for the Phase III non-small cell lung cancer treatment LDK378, and the company has blazed a trial in the en vogue CDK4/6 pathway with LEE011, also in late-stage study.

- read the statement