fizer says that it has called an early halt to a late-stage trial of its advanced kidney cell carcinoma drug Sutent after the therapy proved highly effective as a treatment for a rare form of pancreatic cancer.

The New York-based drugs giant said that it has acted on the advice of an independent data monitoring committee which recommended halting the Phase III trial. The DMC had concluded that Sutent (sunitinib) demonstrated greater progression-free survival compared to placebo plus best supportive care in patients with pancreatic islet cell tumours, also known as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours.

All patients in the trial will have the option to continue taking Sutent or be switched from placebo to the Pfizer drug. The company said that the full data set from the study is being analysed and more details will be presented at an upcoming scientific meeting.

Mace Rothenberg of Pfizer’s Oncology Business Unit said the firm is “delighted by these findings”. He added that these “and previously reported Phase II data contribute to the growing body of evidence indicating activity with sunitinib in patients with pancreatic islet cell tumours”.

This form of the disease involves about 5% of all pancreatic cancer cases, and current treatment options for these rare, indolent tumours is limited. Sutent, which had fourth-quarter sales of $220 million, is currently approved for both advanced renal cell carcinoma and second-line gastrointestinal stromal tumour. It is also being studied in Phase III trials as a treatment for cancers of the breast, liver, colon and prostate, as well as for non-small cell lung cancer.