Novartis has announced this morning that it is discontinuing development of the investigational cancer treatment vadimezan, licensed from the UK's Antisoma.

The decision has been taken after interim results from a Phase III trial which showed that vadimezan, known as ASA404, would not likely meet the primary endpoint of significantly extending overall survival when used in combination with chemotherapy for the second-line treatment of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. The study, called ATTRACT-2, has been stopped early based on a recommendation from an independent data monitoring committee.

The drug had already failed in an earlier late-stage trial (in March), called ATTRACT-1,  which evaluated ASA404 in combination with paclitaxel and carboplatin as first-line treatment for advanced NSCLC.

Novartis says that resources will now be reallocated to other compounds in its oncology pipeline. The Swiss major added that it will take an an intangible asset impairment charge of $120 million in the fourth quarter.

The news is a blow for Novartis but hurts its smaller partner more. Glyn Edwards, Antisoma chief executive, noted that “the findings from ATTRACT-2 mirror those from ATTRACT-1 and therefore come as no surprise". He added that "our focus for some time has been on other programmes", notably AS1413, which is in Phase III for patients with secondary acute myeloid leukaemia.

Investors in the UK firm are disappointed and at 9.40am, Antisoma shares were down 5.8% to 6.5 pence.