Shares in US drugmaker, CancerVax, nosedived almost 40% in after-hours trading on October 3 on the news that the company, and its partner Serono SA of Switzerland, are discontinuing a Phase III clinical trial of their skin cancer vaccine Canvaxin and are abandoning any further development of the agent after seeing disappointing efficacy results.

“We will discontinue all further development and manufacturing operations for Canvaxin, but we currently plan to continue to further the development of the other product candidates in our product pipeline, which we believe hold promise for the treatment of patients with cancer," David Hale, president and chief executive of CancerVax, said in a statement.

The trial was terminated on the recommendation of an independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board, which found that Canvaxin does not appear to extend survival in patients with late-stage melanoma any more than a placebo.

The decision to terminate the drug for this indication follows a similar move earlier this year to cease late-stage trials assessing the agent in stage IV melanoma [[06/04/05b]]. The firms stressed that no significant safety issues were revealed in either study.

CancerVax and Serono entered into a deal for the development of Canvaxin late last year. The move initially pleased investors and most analysts who felt it could reduce the Swiss firm’s reliance on its flagship multiple sclerosis drug, Rebif (interferon beta-1a) [[17/12/04g]]. But others were less enthusiastic on the feeling that demonstrating Canvaxin’s efficacy in improving the chances of survival could be very difficult.

Certainly, Serono was keen to stress the strength of the rest of its pipeline this morning. Said Franck Latrille, senior executive vice president, corporate global product development of Serono: “We continue to have a strong pipeline with five Phase 3 programmes and significant newsflow expected in the next year. Serono remains committed to oncology with Humax-CD4, adecatumumab and TACI-Ig with study results from all three programs expected in 2006.” Shares in Serono remained relatively unchanged across Europe this morning.