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Trial Shows Immunotherapy Improves Lung Cancer Survival

Inspecting lung X-rays

(National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH)

19 Jan. 2022. Clinical trial results show an immunotherapy licensed as a lower-priced cancer drug increases survival time in combination with chemotherapy. Findings show the drug sugemalimab, made by CStone Pharmaceuticals and licensed by EQRx Inc. for commercialization outside China, increases progression-free survival time in patients with advanced cases of lung cancer, when combined with conventional chemotherapy, compared to chemotherapy alone.

The trial tested a therapy for non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer accounting for 80 to 85 percent of cases. In this case, the lung cancer in patients began to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Sugemalimab, made by CStone Pharmaceuticals in Suzhou, China, is a synthetic antibody designed as an immune checkpoint inhibitor that stops PD-L1 proteins from blocking immune-system attacks on cancer cells.

The late-stage clinical trial enrolled 479 patients, age 18 to 75, with metastasizing non-small cell lung cancer at 35 medical centers in China. All participants received chemotherapy, but patients were also randomly assigned to receive sugemalimab or a placebo, along with chemotherapy, every three weeks for up to 24 months..

Findings from the trial appear in the 14 Jan. issue of The Lancet Oncology (paid subscription required).  At a pre-planned cut-off date, 8.6 months after treatment, sugemalimab recipients record a median progression-free survival time — amount of time without the cancer spreading — of 7.8 months compared to 4.9 months for placebo recipients. After follow-up period of almost 18 months, sugemalimab recipients register a median progression-free survival time of 9 months compared to 4.9 for placebo recipients. The increased survival time differences in both cases are statistically reliable. About a quarter (23%) and a fifth (20%) of sugemalimab and placebo recipients respectively experienced serious adverse effects, namely reduced white blood cell and platelet counts and anemia.

Acquires current late-stage drug candidates

EQRx in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a two year-old company that aims to re-engineer processes for bringing drugs to market, as well as getting treatments to patients. The company says its process can not only reduce the time needed to produce drugs, but also their prices. In a company blog post in July 2020, EQRx’s chairman Alexis Borisy and president Melani Nallicheri, the company’s co-founders, say the high cost of pharmaceuticals is now a growing unmet need in the marketplace.

With this objective, EQRx acquires current late-stage drug candidates for further development and commercialization, beginning with cancer drugs. The company licensed sugemalimab from CStone Pharma for development and commercialization outside China in Oct. 2020. As reported by Science & Enterprise in June 2021, EQRx is also partnering with drug discovery company Exscientia in Oxford, U.K. to discover lower-priced drugs with computational models based on artificial intelligence. And in Oct. 2021, EQRx began a collaboration with synthetic protein developer Absci Corp. in Vancouver, Washington to design lower-cost synthetic protein drugs.

EQRx says it plans to present sugemalimab to regulatory authorities as a lower-priced alternative for immune checkpoint inhibitors, which for many cancer patients are now financially out of reach. “Price remains a barrier to accessing innovative therapies for many people with lung cancer around the world,” says EQRX chief physician Vince Miller in a company statement, “despite the availability of multiple anti-PD-L1 therapies. We look forward to engaging with global regulatory authorities with the aim of delivering a lower-cost treatment option to patients upon approval.”

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