Cancer immunotherapy has a promising future despite suffering a major setback last Friday. Incyte Corporation (NASDAQ:INCY) announced that its trial drug epacadostat had failed to help melanoma patients, and the company is calling off the trial altogether.
Epacadostatwas meant to work together with Keytruda, Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK)’s blockbuster cancer immunotherapy drug, which has earned the pharmaceutical company billions in revenue to help in boosting the immune system to fight cancer. The immune systems contains the T cells, which are able to different normal cells and leave alone and the foreign cells which they should attack and destroy. The main problem is that T cells resemble many cancer cells. Keytruda helps the T cells to correctly identify and destroy cancer cells. Drugs like Keytruda are referred to as “checkpoint inhibitors.”
Epacadostat was supposed to boost immunotherapy. The body produces an enzyme called IDO, which stops the T cells from doing the job they are supposed to do. Epacadostat stops the IDO enzyme from suppressing the T cells. It is an IDO inhibitor.
Incyte jhad hopped that epacadostat, working together with Keytruda, would help in fighting and defeating cancer more effectively and powerfully than Keytruda working alone. However, epacadostat failed in stopping the spread of cancer, and has also failed in helping in the overall survival. Following the failure, Incyte stock lost more 19% on Friday. Merck shares drop by almost 3%.
In a press release, Incyte chief medical officer Dr. Steven Stein said they are very disappointed that the trial failed to confirm the efficacy of epacadostat working with KEYTRUDA in patients with metastatic or unresectable melanoma. He added that despite the failure, they remain committed to transforming cancer treatment and will explore more ways on how IDO1 inhibition plus other novel mechanisms which can improve the outcomes for patients who are in need.
After calling off the trial, the company says it will be testing epacadostat for treatment of other cancer. According to Dr. Jason Luke, an oncologist at the University of Chicago, the study failed because the company concentrated on a very broad sample of patients.