Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘ECCO 2011 Cancer Congress’

Radium-223 (Alpharadin) is a novel bone targeted treatment for advanced prostate cancer.

At the recent European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in Stockholm (EMCC 2011), Dr Chris Parker from The Royal Marsden Hospital presented results of the phase 3 ALSYMPCA trial that showed both delayed time to first skeletal-related event (SRE) AND an overall survival (OS) benefit for those men with advanced prostate cancer taking radium-223.  This is the first time a product in the bone category has shown such a survival benefit – neither denosumab or zoledronic acid can claim that distinction.

Unlike the recent regulatory approvals for cabazitaxel (Jevtana) and abiraterone acetate (Zytiga), which focused on the post-docetaxel setting, the ALSYMPCA trial included not only those who had already received cytotoxic therapy, but also pre-docetaxel patients, who were unable to take chemotherapy.

As Dr Parker mentions in the interview that he kindly gave in Stockholm (the first video interview on Biotech Strategy Blog), radium-223, assuming it gains regulatory approval, will provide a new treatment option for the considerable population of men with bone metastases who may be too weak, too old or otherwise unable to take chemotherapy such as docetaxel.

Radium-223 is, therefore, potentially good news for this “neglected” population of prostate cancer patients.

In the video interview, Dr Parker talks about why he believes combining radium-223 with abiraterone acetate (Zytiga) makes sense.

He also talks about some of the challenges that radium-223 still faces, such as how to monitor treatment and work out the optimal dose.  It is hard to believe that Algeta/Bayer would undertake a phase 3 registration study of a novel bone targeted agent without any bone imaging in the protocol!

As Cora Sternberg mentioned in the educational session at EMCC 2011, in advanced prostate cancer, “80% of the disease is in the bone.radium-223 is an exciting radiopharmaceutical that is likely to be “practice changing” once approved.

That’s not to say there are not going to be challenges and issues with its commercialization.  Algeta/Bayer have a lot of work to do now that it is clearly on fast track for FDA approval next year.

Dr Parker also mentions in his interview that radium-223 is a weak alpha emitter and the radiation can be blocked by paper or glass. It therefore requires no special facilities, such as lead lined rooms, for its administration, unlike beta emitters.  The latter have been challenging commercially in the past for this reason.

However, it does require a radiopharmaceutical license, which means that community based oncologists and urologists in the United States will most likely have to refer patients to receive their injection at an approved facility where there is a nuclear medicine/radiology department or equivalent expertise.  In Europe, this is less of an issue given most cancer patients are treated in outpatient clinics associated with hospitals, whereas in the US, the majority of patients are seen in the community setting.

Despite that, it is hard to believe that radium-223 (Alpharadin) will not have a major impact on the advanced prostate cancer market if it can be commercially supplied without difficulty and the details are worked out on how to use it optimally and monitor progress. I am sure we will hear more on these issues at cancer conferences next year.

Looking at the other indications for bone targeted agents such as denosumab and zoledronic acid, radium-223 or a similar radiopharmaceutical could offer potential benefits in other tumor types such as breast cancer, were there are also skeletal related events (SRE’s) associated with treatment.

The video interview I did with Dr Chris Parker is well worth watching, and I am grateful to him for taking the time out of his busy schedule at the recent Cancer Congress in Stockholm. Since this is a first for Biotech Strategy Blog, do let me know if this is something you’d like to see more of moving forwards.

Challenges & opportunities for radium-223 (Alpharadin) in advanced prostate cancer – an interview with Dr Chris Parker 

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The patient advocacy session on “Cancer and the Internet” at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary cancer congress (#EMCC2011) in Stockholm was well attended by patient advocates from across Europe, as well as industry and communications professionals.

The session focused on building online communities, how the internet can help patients with rare diseases have a voice with policy makers and showcased the new European cancer portal: ecancerHub.

Chaired by CML advocate, Jan Geissler (@jangeissler) the session heard from ACOR founder Gilles Frydman (@gfry), Denis Costello from Eurodis (@rarecare) and Richard Sullivan from Kings College London.

Earlier this year, the PEW Internet & American Life Project reported that 80% of internet users have looked for online health information around a disease or major health topic. The internet continues to grow in its importance to patients and how the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry reaches them.

One of the challenges expressed in questions from the audience was the plethora of information available on the internet to patients, and how the number of available sites continues to grow, leading to overwhelm.  Knowledge, as Gilles Frydman wryly observed, is always in beta.

ecancerHub is a new online global cancer community and knowledge portal

Superportals such as the ecancerHub are likely to play an increasing role in how patients share information and research the internet, especially if they can curate reliable, accurate and independent sources of information.

Funded by the European Commission’s eurocancercoms project, ecancerHub aims to become a leading knowledge base for cancer information and also where online communities of patients can easily meet to share experiences and learn from each other.

Other than a quick visit, I have not yet had the chance to check the site out fully, but it looks promising. I was particularly interested by the future developments that were discussed, such as focused search engines that will help people find clinical trial or cancer information.

Ultimately, ecancerHub will only succeed if it gains a critical mass of users and to do this, not only must it become widely known, but it also has to offer superior content, ease of use and an online experience that promotes patients to preferentially build enduring and valuable communities on it as a one stop hub, rather than elsewhere.

If you are a cancer patient or have an interest in healthcare social media, ecancerHub is worth a visit.

One piece of hot news at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress (twitter #EMCC2011) taking place in Stockholm this weekend is the data on radium-223 chloride (Alpharadin) in metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer. The phase 3 ALSYMPCA trial results were presented in yesterday’s presidential symposia by Dr Chris Parker, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden Hospital.


The Scandinavian location for the presentation could not have been better, given that Alpharadin was developed by the Norwegian company Algeta. Bayer Schering Pharma AG have the worldwide commercial rights, but Algeta maintains a co-promotion option in the United States.

I first picked up on Alpharadin in a presentation given at the American Urological Association (AUA) annual meeting by Oliver Sartor (Tulane) earlier this year when he reviewed new prostate cancer products in development.

Algeta-Radium-223-Chloride-ASCO 2011-Abstract-4620At the ASCO 2011 meeting in Chicago there was a poster on the Alpharadin Phase 2 trial data (see the figure on the right) that caught my attention given that it showed an overall survival (OS) advantage.  This news was, however, largely drowned by the interest in cabozantinib (XL184).

The result is that Alpharadin has to many come out of left field. It is a promising compound for the treatment of prostate cancer that will provide new treatment options for patients with metastatic disease. In particular, use in combination with other therapies such as abiraterone acetate (Zytiga) may prolong survival to a greater extent than either does individually.

Currently, radium-223 chloride (Alpharadin) is only in investigational use and is not approved in Europe or the United States. It is, however, on the fast track towards FDA approval in 2012.

ALSYMPCA phase 3 prostate cancer data presentation ESMO ECCO 2011What makes Alpharadin exciting as a new treatment option for castration resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) is that the ALSYMPCA trial data shows that it not only provides a significant median overall survival (OS) benefit of 2.8 months compared to placebo (14 months versus 11.2 months, p=0.00185, HR 0.695), but significantly delays the time to first skeletal event by 5.2 months (13.6 months versus 8.4 months, p=0.00046, HR 0.610).

The overal survival (OS) benefit seen in the ALYSMPCA phase 3 trial is comparable to other approved agents in the post-docetaxel setting for CRPC. However, where it is unique is in the additional effect it has on skeletal related events (SRE), a common occurrence in metastatic prostate cancer.  Bone metastases are painful and have a significant impact on quality of life.

Other compounds that target the bone microenviroment such as denosumab (Xgeva), provide a delay in the time to first skeletal event in prostate cancer patients but to-date have not been shown to confer an overall survival advantage. This means that Alphardin is the first bone targeted agent to confer both an overall survival and a delay in time to first skeletal event.

After Dr Parker’s presentation of the ALSYMPCA phase 3 trial data yesterday here in Stockholm,  Professor Wim Oyen of the Department of Nuclear Medicine in Nijmegen discussed the data.

What he noted was the high tolerability of Ra-223 chloride (Alpharadin) as compared to other radiopharmaceuticals for treatment of patients with bone metastases.  He discussed how the emission of alpha particles allows for a short range effect (a few cell diameters) that is very localized, but with a large biological effect.

Oyen highlighted the “opportunity for improving patient outcome by adding Ra-223 in regimens of combination therapy,” something that Dr Parker speculated about in his media briefing.

Professor Oyen also saw “an opportunity for improving patient outcome by using Ra-223 in an adjuvant setting.”  His conclusion based on the phase 3 ALSYMPCA trial data presented was that radium-223 chloride (Alpharadin) is an “effective, very well tolerated and convenient treatment modality.


Dr Parker mentioned to me, while waiting for a train back to Stockholm, that the ALSYMPCA trial data he presented had not yet been submitted for publication. He said he would be disappointed if it did not appear in the New England Journal of Medicine. Given that it is groundbreaking and “practice changing,” I would be surprised if it is not published in the NEJM in due course.

I am sure that we will be hearing more about radium-223 chloride (Alpharadin) in the forthcoming months, especially now it is on fast track to FDA approval in 2012.

Although not a cure for prostate cancer, the ALSYMPCA trial data presented here in Stockholm is further good news for patients, and will provide a potential new treatment option for urologists and oncologists.

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