After the failure of a pivotal trial for a cancer immunotherapy, many investors wrote off Seattle-based Oncothyreon. Recently, however, Merck KGaA, based in Darmstadt, decided it saw enough of a silver lining in the data from that trial to keep spending money on it. The change in decision was signaled by the discovery that patients who received concurrent radiation and chemotherapy, rather than sequential treatments, as is traditional in cancer treatment, had a survival advantage in the trial. Aimed at treating non-small-cell lung cancers, the product, formerly called Stimuvax, is an immune-booster tecemotide, and in September, Merck announced its intent to launch another Phase III clinical trial. The trial will focus only on Stage III lung cancer patients who have received the concurrent other therapies, which may be the key to the tecemotide’s success.
Oncothyreon’s shares surged after the announcement, and with good reason. Though Oncothyreon will only receive an undisclosed royalty from Merck if the current product proves successful, Oncothyreon retains 100% control of a second-generation immunotherapy that will benefit from proof, through this and other trials, that their basic thesis of cancer treatment is correct. The second treatment expands on the idea that the first treatment is testing.