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Here's the bad news: Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) announced yesterday that it stopped a phase 3 trial for its experimental cancer fighter, figitumumab, because the data monitoring board said the trial was unlikely to show that figitumumab helps extend lives of lung cancer patients.
Here's the good news: Investors shouldn't have expected much more. That's not a jab at Pfizer -- even if it's sometimes too easy. The company had already stopped enrollment in the trial after the monitoring board saw an increase in side effects, including death, in the patients taking figitumumab.
The trial tested figitumumab in combination with two standard drugs, paclitaxel and carboplatin, compared to paclitaxel plus carboplatin alone. The failure is particularly disappointing because of figitumumab's strong phase 2 results in patients with squamous cell histology. Other drugs like Nexavar, from Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ONXX ) , and motesanib, by Takeda Pharmaceutical and Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN ) , have shown negative effects in that cell type, leaving the market wide open.
It's possible that the side effects in the ended trial were due to the specific combination of figitumumab, paclitaxel and carboplatin, but investors shouldn't hold their breath. Pfizer is still continuing a trial testing figitumumab in combination with Roche and OSI Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: OSIP ) Tarceva.
The company is also testing figitumumab in other cancers, and it may still work, but I'd hold off on penciling it in as the next Gemzar, which Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY ) has gotten approved for four different cancer types. We need to see whether the side effects are specific to figitumumab or to the combination before we'll know whether there's more good news than bad in figitumumab's future.
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