GSK has missed out on a big new market for its blood cancer drug Arzerra. Approved to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), Arzerra (ofatumumab) failed to pass the test in a B-cell lymphoma trial.. Arzerra was pitted against Roche’s Rituxan (rituximab) in patients with B-cell lymphoma. The Arzerra-plus-chemo combination didn’t beat the Rituxan-plus-chemo combo on progression-free survival.
Though Arzerra patients fared about as well as Rituxan patients in terms of serious side effects, the Arzerra group did suffer more dose interruptions and delays because of infusion reactions and elevated creatinine levels. It’s a setback for Glaxo’s oncology business, which the company recently agreed to sell to Novartis for up to $16 billion. In announcing that deal, Glaxo believed the company’s cancer portfolio would be in better hands at Novartis, which has greater depth in cancer research and a broader range of drugs. Novartis is adept at developing new indications for existing drugs, and Arzerra is currently under study for other indications, including follicular lymphoma.
As far as CLL goes, Glaxo has had some recent success with Arzerra. Approved in 2009 for relapsed CLL, the drug nabbed FDA approval last month as a first-line treatment. The first-line approval applies to patients who can’t take a common chemo treatment, fludarabine. But earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson’s new blood cancer treatment Imbruvica beat Arzerra at second-line treatment for CLL.