In one of the biggest single drug codevelopment agreements to date, GlaxoSmithKline and Synta announced last week that they would produce a new melanoma treatment that they say works better than chemotherapy.
GSK is hedging its bets that the drug, STA-4783, will succeed, dropping $80 million in cash and agreeing to more than $1 billion in potential milestones for the drug, now in Phase III trials. The two companies will split the profits in the United States and will get royalties internationally.
"This may be an entirely new way of treating cancer that?s very different from your typical chemotherapy approach," Safi Bahcall, CEO of Synta Pharmaceutical, said in an interview with Pharm Exec. According to Synta, "STA-4783 boosts the level of reactive oxygen species in cancer cells, causing the cell to exceed a critical breaking point and undergo programmed cell death, or apoptosis." The drug, however, has little to no effect on healthy cells.
"Traditional chemotherapies block cell division," Bahcall said. "They go inside and kill anything that divides rapidly, including non-cancer cells. One of the reasons this drug works in melanoma where other drugs have failed is because melanoma is quite resistant to chemotherapy."
Synta was founded by scientists from Harvard and MIT to develop small molecule drugs for cancer and inflammation. It has three cancer drugs in development. STA-4783 has shown positive data in metastatic melanoma, and the company expects to try the drug in other cancer types, such as breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers. Bahcall said, "We ran a trial that compared patients who received the drug versus a control group, and the patients who received our drug lived twice as long without the disease getting worse."
STA-4783 just entered Phase III trials. Synta estimates that the results will be available by later next year and ready for presentation to FDA by early 2009.
Synta said it has received a large amount of unsolicited interest from big pharmaceutical companies that are interested in working with it on different drugs. "One of the reasons we selected GSK was we saw such consistent enthusiasm and commitment from the company across all of its groups internally," Bahcall said. "That was an important factor, because one of the things you want as a small company is a sense that the larger company is going to be very committed to advancing your program—we got that sense on a personal and economic level. This deal will allow us to realize the full potential of our product."