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ASCO: AZ, Merck’s Lynparza fends off pancreatic cancer, cutting progression risk in half


CHICAGO—AstraZeneca and Merck’s Lynparza is on a roll when it comes to making headlines at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting—and doing it in some of the toughest-to-treat cancers out there. And it wasn’t going to stop this year.

Sunday, the drugmakers trumpeted phase 3 data showing the PARP inhibitor slashed the risk of disease worsening or death by 47% in patients with germline BRCA-mutated pancreatic cancer that hadn’t progressed after an initial round of chemo. Lynparza patients in the study, dubbed Polo, went a median 7.4 months without their cancer advancing compared with just 3.8 months for placebo patients.

RELATED: AstraZeneca’s Lynparza, now in hot PARP battle, posts 42% survival win in breast cancer

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At the one-year mark, Lynparza had kept cancer at bay for 34% of patients versus placebo’s 15%. And at the two-year mark, Lynparza continued the trend, staving off progression in more than twice as many patients as placebo did—at 22% and 10%, respectively.

The results are “very exciting” considering “we are now able to offer a chemo-free option in maintenance to patients who for over a decade haven’t had any meaningful improvement,” Dave Fredrickson, executive vice president and global head of AstraZeneca’s oncology business unit, said.

Pancreatic cancer has been a tough nut for drugmakers to crack, in part because companies haven’t had a target to go after in development—until now.

“In the absence of those, chemotherapy becomes your only option, which is not a great option for patients relative to … other tools we have at our disposal in other tumor types,” Fredrickson said, adding “this will absolutely redefine the standard of care for gBRCA pancreatic cancer.”

And the results will change something else, too, he predicts. “What this will do, assuming it’s approved, is create the imperative to make sure we’re testing for BRCA outside of just women’s cancers,” he said. The company has plenty of experience at driving new testing habits, he noted, including with Lynparza in BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer.

RELATED: ASCO: AstraZeneca pioneer Lynparza scores with Zytiga combo in prostate cancer

“I have every confidence that … in a disease that is as difficult to treat as pancreatic cancer, we will be able to work together with the community” to increase testing, and “I believe that once we know that patients are gBRCA, it should be very clear that they should be treated with Lynparza,” Fredrickson said.

In the last three years, Lynparza has ranked among ASCO’s biggest newsmakers with data from three separate disease areas. Last year, it made waves with a Zytiga combo in prostate cancer, and the year before, it posted big survival numbers in breast cancer.

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