OncoGenex's drug misses the mark in pancreatic cancer

OncoGenex CEO Scott Cormack

OncoGenex ($OGXI), a small biotech going it alone in cancer R&D, said one of its drug prospects failed in a pancreatic cancer trial, denting the value of the company's pipeline.

In an investigator-sponsored Phase II study, adding OncoGenex's apatorsen to a cocktail of Celgene's ($CELG) Abraxane and the chemotherapy gemcitabine failed to improve survival compared with the two older drugs alone, the company said. The trial enrolled 130 patients with previously untreated metastatic pancreatic cancer, testing whether the intravenous apatorsen could help prolong overall survival.

On the safety side, OncoGenex noted an increase in life-threatening side effects and patient deaths compared with past apatorsen trials, with more discontinuations tied to adverse events than disease progression.

The company is releasing only top-line safety and efficacy results from the trial, and management was quick to note the difficulty of developing treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer, "a lethal and complex disease," as CEO Scott Cormack described in a statement.

OncoGenex is still pressing ahead with apatorsen in its lead indication of metastatic bladder cancer, currently enrolling a company-sponsored Phase II trial to test whether adding the drug to gemcitabine and cisplatin can improve overall survival. Apatorsen is also in middle of investigator-sponsored trials in lung and prostate cancers.

Meanwhile, the Bothell, WA-headquartered company is on its own in Phase III with lead asset custirsen after partner Teva ($TEVA) backed away from the once-failed drug earlier this year. OncoGenex has been cutting its costs ever since, reducing the size of custirsen's late-stage lung cancer study and nixing a lease agreement on its headquarters to save money.

OncoGenex reported $60.2 million in cash and equivalents as of June 30, and the company said that should keep the doors open late into the fourth quarter of 2016, time enough to complete custirsen's Phase III trial.

- read the statement