10 Biotechs Tackling Senator John McCain's Form of Aggressive Brain Cancer

10 Biotechs Tackling Senator John McCain's Form of Aggressive Brain Cancer July 21, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

The country was shocked earlier this week when it was announced that Arizona Senator John McCain had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, considering McCain’s age—80—and history of skins cancers. The skin cancers are not related, however, to the brain tumor, a glioblastoma, which his physicians say is a primary tumor independent of his previous incidents of cancer.

Glioblastoma is an aggressive brain cancer, the most common type of brain cancer. It makes up 16 percent of all brain malignancies. It is considered rare, affecting 3 out of 100,00 people in the U.S., with 13,000 new cases each year. It is aggressive, spreading throughout the brain, but for reasons not understood, does not metastasize outside the brain.

Sen. McCain’s prognosis is probably not good. STAT writes, “After undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, some 70 percent of patients suffer further spread of their glioblastoma along with such serious side effects as cognitive decline and strokes.” Statistically, about 5 percent of glioblastoma patients survive past five years, and only about 50 percent survive past 15 months.

There are approximately 157 ongoing clinical trials in the U.S. for glioblastoma. Here’s a look at 10 biotech companies working on therapies for this disease.

1. Takeda Pharmaceuticals

With U.S. offices in Cambridge, Mass., the company’s treatment for glioblastoma is Ninlaro (ixazomib), which is in early Phase I clinical trials. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ninlaro in combination with lenalidomide and dexamethasone for patients with multiple myeloma who had received at least one prior therapy.

2. Boston Biomedical

A private company based in Cambridge, Mass., the company’s BBI608 in combination with temozolomide is in Phase II clinical trials for glioblastoma who have not received prior bevacizumab therapy.

3. EMD Serono

Located in Darmstadt, Germany, EMD Serono is the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KgaA . It has facilities in Billerica and Rockland, Mass. Its Bavencio (avelumab) is being evaluated for glioblastoma in a Phase II trial. In March, Bavencio was approved by the FDA to treat adults and children 12 years and older with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (mMCC).

4. Ziopharm Oncology

Headquartered in Boston, Ziopharm’s Ad-RTS-IL-12 for glioblastoma is currently in Phase I clinical trials. On June 28, the company announced the start of enrollment in the stereotactic arm of its Phase I trial of Ad-RTS-hIL-12 plus veledimex in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme (rGBM).

5. Celldex Therapeutics

Based in Hampton, NJ, Celldex is evaluating its Varlilumab in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb ’s Opdivo in glioblastoma in a Phase II clinical trial. The company presented data from the Phase I trial of the drug at the ASCO Annual meeting in June.


Headquartered in Framingham, Mass., the company’s BPM 31510 is currently in Phase I trials for glioblastoma. In April, the company presented seven posters related to BPM 31510 at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). The compound is being investigated in several different topical and solid tumors.

7. Oncorus

Located in Cambridge, Mass., Oncorus focuses on immuno-oncology, engineering miRNA binding sites into essential viral genes, so oHS replication and cellular destruction is prevented in healthy cells. Cancer cells lack these specific miRNAs, and Oncorus’ oHSV can replicate in and destroy them. The company’s lead product is ONCR-001, although it’s not clear if this is being currently evalucated in glioblastoma. The company’s work is currently all preclinical.

8. Agenus

Headquartered in Lexington, Mass., Agenus focuses on immuno-oncology and cancer vaccines. The company’s Prophage vaccine is being evaluated in glioblastoma. In June 2015, the company presented data from an ongoing Phase II trial of Prophage in glioblastoma multiforme at the ASCO 2015 meeting.

9. Deciphera Pharmaceuticals

Based in Waltham, Mass., Deciphera’s DCC-2618 is currently in a Phase I clinical trial for glioblastoma, as well as other cancers. In June, the company provided an update on its Phase I trial of DCC-2618 in advanced malignancies at the ASCO 2017 meeting.

10. Karyopharm Therapeutics

Headquartered in Newton, Mass., the company’s selinexor is in Phase II studies for glioblastoma. On May 18, the company presented interim clinical data on selinexor (KPT-330) in large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) at the 22nd Congress of the European Hematology Association (EHA) in Madrid, Spain.

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