UPDATE 1-Pfizer pancreatic cancer drug fails, trial halted

NEW YORK Fri Jan 30, 2009 5:53pm EST

NEW YORK Jan 30 (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), in its latest research setback, said on Friday it stopped a late stage study of an experimental drug to treat advanced pancreatic cancer after an independent monitoring board found no evidence that it prolongs survival.

The drug, axitinib, is still being studied for kidney cancer in late stage clinical trials, and is in mid-stage trials for non-small cell lung cancer, colon cancer and other tumor types.

Axitinib had shown promise against notoriously tough to treat advanced pancreatic cancer in combination with chemotherapy in mid-stage trials, and the company decided to proceed with larger, more expensive Phase III trials.

"These results were disappointing, given the trend toward prolonged survival seen in a Phase II study of axitinib in this extremely difficult-to-treat patient population," Mace Rothenberg, head of Pfizer's oncology business unit, said in a statement.

The company said it has notified all clinical trial investigators involved in the study and regulatory agencies of the findings and recommends patients discontinue treatment with axitinib.

Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, said it would try to find other compounds in its developmental pipeline that can be tested against pancreatic cancer, which has few treatment options.

But the company has endured a long list of research disappointments in recent years as it struggles to find a way to replace the cholesterol fighter Lipitor before the more than $12 billion a year drug goes off patent in late 2011.

The dearth of important new medicines coming out of its research labs is one of the primary reasons Pfizer decided to buy smaller rival Wyeth for $68 billion.

Its shares, which closed down 3.5 percent at $14.48 on Friday, are hovering just above a 12-year low. (Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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