* Abbott to make test that looks for gene rearrangement
* Test linked to cancer therapy being developed by Pfizer (Recasts first sentence, adds expert comment and background)
By Debra Sherman
CHICAGO, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Two big drug companies — Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N) and Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) — said on Thursday they were teaming up to match a genetic test for lung cancer with a new type of drug to treat it. The idea is to focus the treatment on patients most likely to benefit.
Abbott Molecular, a unit of Abbott Labs that makes genetic and other medical tests, said it would develop a test that determines a patient’s genetic status.
Results would be used to select patients for future clinical trials of a new oral cancer therapy, known as PF-02341066, being developed by Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker.
The Abbott test, another step toward personalized medicine in cancer treatment, will determine the presence of so-called gene rearrangement in the tissue of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumors.
Gene rearrangement is a process in cells that can contribute to the transformation of a normal cell into a cancerous one. It is found in lung cancer tumors and a wide variety of other cancers, but not in normal cells. Gene rearrangement, also called translocation, means the gene is in a different place than it usually is. If gene rearrangement is present, the Pfizer therapy is more likely to be effective, an Abbott spokesman said.
About 6 to 7 percent of non-small cell lung cancer patients have the rearrangement and thus would be candidates for clinical trials of PF-02341066, an investigational therapy that selectively targets cancer-causing genes implicated in the progress of many cancers.
“This is taking a totally different approach. Six to seven percent doesn’t sound very impressive, but the total number is big,” said Dr. Adi Gazdar of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Matching companion tests with new drugs is “the wave of the future and it will get much bigger with time, particularly as we get better treatments,” Gazdar said. “Each step, no matter how small, is important. This is a modest step.”
Abbott’s test will allow researchers to focus on the patient population most likely to benefit from the treatment, Garry Nicholson, general manager of the Pfizer Oncology Business Unit, said in a prepared statement.
Working with Abbott, Nicholson added, “we are confident that we will deliver yet another application of personalized medicine to address a currently unmet medical need in NSCLC.”
Abbott Molecular President Stafford O’Kelly said Pfizer’s compound “appears to be ideally suited to individualized therapy.”
Financial terms of the Abbott-Pfizer deal were not disclosed.
Last month, the Abbott unit unveiled an agreement with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) to develop a companion test to screen for lung cancer. That test will focus on an antigen called MAGE-A3 and will screen for lung cancer tumors.
Drug companies and regulators alike increasingly are turning to these companion diagnostics — tests that look for specific genes or proteins — as a way to improve the odds that a high-cost biotechnology drug will work in specific patients.
AstraZeneca (AZN.L) stopped most U.S. sales of Iressa in 2004 after it was found to help only 10 percent to 15 percent of lung cancer patients. But several studies have suggested that some people — notably nonsmokers, Asians and women — did better on Iressa.
Lung cancer kills 1.2 million people a year and is the top cause of cancer death globally. (Reporting by Debra Sherman; editing by John Wallace and Matthew Lewis)