AbbVie axes multi-billion cancer flop Rova-T after another trial fails

pharmaphorum | August 29, 2019

AbbVie has axed its troubled lung cancer drug Rova-T, after another trial failure from the drug that is turning out to be an expensive flop, costing almost $10 billion so far. As it searched for new drugs to replace revenues lost from the patent expiry of its mega-blockbuster Humira, AbbVie snapped up Rova-T’s developer Stemcentrx in 2016 for $5.8 billion. But the gamble has not paid off after yet another trial disaster from the antibody-drug conjugate, full name rovalpituzumab tesirine. AbbVie already took an impairment charge of $4 billion earlier this year following a previous Rova-T trial failure, and there are doubts about the other compounds that AbbVie added to its pipeline following the Stemcentrx deal. The idea behind Rova-T is to use the antibody to target delta-like protein 3 (DLL3), an antigen expressed in more than 80% of small cell lung cancer tumours, prevalent in tumour cells and cancer stem cells but not healthy tissue. Then the cytotoxic agent tesirine could be delivered directly to the DLL-3 expressing cancer cells. It sounds great in theory but in practice it’s not working – AbbVie announced that it has ended the phase 3 MERU trial of Rova-T as first line maintenance therapy in advanced small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) after it demonstrated no survival benefit in a pre-planned interim analysis comparing it with placebo. The company made the decision based on a recommendation from the trial’s Independent Data Monitoring Committee, which cited a lack of survival benefit compared with placebo.

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