ATTRACTing Clinical Trial Failure

Ah, well. Better luck next time.

Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) is dropping development of lung-cancer treatment ASA404 after a second failed phase 3 trial. The clinical trial -- dubbed ATTRACT-2 (Antivascular Targeted Therapy: Researching ASA404 in Cancer Treatment) -- was stopped early because the drug clearly wasn't helping patients. The earlier ATTRACT-1 trial met a similar fate eight months ago. Novartis will have to take a $120 million charge for stopping the program.

That's one of the perils of investing in drugmakers with lung-cancer drugs in their pipelines. Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) , Human Genome Sciences (Nasdaq: HGSI  ) , and Novelos Therapeutics have all seen drugs fail in clinical trials against lung cancer recently.

While lung cancer is indeed a tricky disease, that doesn't mean you should necessarily avoid the space altogether. There's money to be made if a company can hit the right spot.

Pfizer's crizotinib recently demonstrated clinical trial success in a small subset of patients with a specific mutation. And Celgene's (Nasdaq: CELG  ) Abraxane, which it got in the purchase of Abraxis Bioscience, was shown to work better than Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE: BMY  ) Taxol in a phase 3 trial. The latter was a lower-risk experiment, since Abraxane is a modified form of Taxol.

Novartis, on the other hand, was taking a bigger risk with ASA404, which it licensed from Antisoma back in 2007. Novartis did all the right things, including testing ASA404 in combination with chemotherapy agents, so that it merely had to improve the standard of care, rather than beating it.

But sometimes, drugs fail -- more than sometimes, where lung cancer's concerned. It's better to abandon this one and move on than to keep throwing cash after this castoff .

Jordan DiPietro thinks individual investors need to lick their wounds and get back in the game.

Novartis is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Investing internationally doesn't have to be scary and it can certainly be profitable. Click here to grab a 30-day trial subscription to the newsletter where you'll see all of our current picks for a global economy.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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