- Cancer drug developer ALX Oncology is stopping a pair of studies of its most advanced immunotherapy prospect in the latest setback for an emerging group of medicines known as CD47 inhibitors.
- In its quarterly earnings statement Thursday, ALX said a combination of its drug, called evorpacept, and the chemotherapy azacitidine didn’t “substantially improve upon” the chemotherapy alone in a study of patients with the bone marrow cancer myelodysplastic syndrome trial. The company chose to terminate an ongoing trial in acute myeloid leukemia as well.
- ALX’s announcement comes less than a month after Gilead Sciences stopped a trial of a similar type of drug, magrolimab, early because treatment proved ineffective. It also continues a broader retreat among companies developing CD47 drugs. Surface Oncology and Bristol Myers Squibb have also scrapped prospective medicines in recent years.
The success of cancer immunotherapies like Merck & Co.’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers’ Opdivo kicked off a broad search by biopharmaceutical companies for other ways to turn the immune system against cancer. One strategy that drew interest was targeting a protein called CD47, which tumors use to protect themselves.
In recent years, companies developing CD47 drugs became hot commodities. Gilead acquired magrolimab three years ago in a $5 billion deal for biotech Forty Seven. One year later, Pfizer bought Trillium Therapeutics for $2.3 billion.
ALX has been studying its own prospect, evorpacept, which was the centerpiece of a $162 million initial public offering in 2020. But it’s lost nearly three-quarters of its value since, as interest surrounding CD47 inhibitors has cooled. It’s now leaning on evorpacept’s potential when combined with other medicines, such as antibodies or antibody-drug conjugates.
On Thursday, the company said it plans to continue a Phase 2/3 trial in gastric cancer, which is testing its medicine alongside three other drugs. Resources that had been earmarked for its blood cancer studies will be directed into other combinations as well, executives said.
Shares fell Friday and now trade at less than $5 apiece, leaving ALX worth less than the $224 million in cash the company held as of June 30.