Cephalon cancer drug, in combo therapy, kills multiple myeloma cells in mice

Researchers in Virginia identified a potentially powerful new treatment for the blood cancer multiple myeloma. They defeated the cancer in the lab and in animal trials by combining obatoclax, a cancer drug under development at Cephalon, and flavopiridol, a potential oncology drug once under development at Sanofi ($SNY).

In the lab, scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University's Massey Cancer Center found that the drug combination boosted apoptosis (cell suicide) for multiple myeloma. They repeated those results in studies with immune compromised mice that had the cancer, greatly boosting their survival. Flavopiridol had a duel benefit as well. The drug helped reduce levels of proteins that prevent cell death but also generated more production of proteins that induce apoptosis. Further details are in the journal Cancer Research.

Flavopiridol is known as a cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor and is designed to block cancer cell growth and reduce proteins that resist apoptosis. Obatoclax, which Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' ($TEVA) Cephalon obtained in its $525 million buyout of Gemin X in 2011, is already being tested in a number of blood cancers, the researchers note. Simply put, it targets proteins that stop cancer cells from reaching apoptosis and disables them.

The research team says it will continue its work by looking at other CDK inhibitors combined with obatoclax to treat multiple myeloma. It's a competitive market, with players including Takeda Pharmaceutical/Millennium (Velcade), Celgene ($CELG) and others.

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