UPDATE 2-Merck to test stimuvax cancer drug in Phase III

Mon Jun 22, 2009 2:12pm EDT

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FRANKFURT, June 22 (Reuters) - Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE) moved its experimental cancer vaccine Stimuvax into the third and last phase of testing required for regulatory approval to investigate its use against breast cancer.

Germany's Merck, which co-develops Stimuvax with U.S. biotech firm Oncothyreon (ONTY.O) ONY.TO, said on Monday the trial, dubbed STRIDE(a), will involve patients with advanced, inoperable breast cancer.

The news sent the shares of Oncothyreon up 17.8 percent to C$3.04 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday afternoon after touching a high of C$3.20 earlier in the day. On Nasdaq, the shares were up 16.7 percent at $2.66.

The small biotechnology company changed its name from Biomira and moved to the United States from Canada late last year.

Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer after lung cancer and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women.

The drug, which is also being tested against lung cancer in Phase III, has been shown to prime the body's immune system to detect and attack cancer cells.

Germany's Merck is racing with biotech firms including Transgene (TRNG.PA), Dendreon Corp (DNDN.O) and Antigenics (AGEN.O) to bring cancer vaccines to market.

While Transgene's TG4010 compound also targets lung tumors, the most common form of cancer, the Dendreon and Antigenics drug candidates are aimed at prostate cancer and brain cancer, respectively. (Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Scott Anderson in Toronto; editing by Peter Galloway)

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