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Bayer,Onyx liver cancer drug extends life 3 months

CHICAGO, June 4 (Reuters) - An experimental pill for advanced liver cancer helped patients live about three months, or 44 percent, longer than those on a placebo, according to a study released on Monday.

The trial found the drug Nexavar, by German drugmaker Bayer AG BAYG.DE and its U.S. partner Onyx Pharmaceuticals ONXX.O, extended survival to 10.7 months, compared with 7.9 months for those on a placebo.

The 600-person study was halted early because of the survival advantage and the drug was offered to all patients.

The trial of Nexavar, among a new wave of treatments targeting cell receptors to block cancer growth, was highlighted at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago, where tens of thousands of cancer experts are gathering.

Liver cancer kills 622,000 people globally each year and is treated with a mix of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. But there are no effective treatments when these aggressive options fail, and Bayer and Onyx hope to be first to fill that treatment gap.

“Of about 100 trials in liver cancer in 30 years, all have been negative. There is an unmet need,” said Joseph Llovet, director of liver cancer research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who led the trial.

Although relatively uncommon in the United States, liver cancer is the third biggest cause of cancer deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Nexavar, known generically as sorafenib, is already approved to treat kidney cancer. Like many cancer therapies, it is being tested to see if it is effective in fighting other cancers.

Bayer plans to submit its full applications to U.S. and European regulators this summer, according to a spokesman.

Liver cancer is primarily caused by exposure to the hepatitis B and C viruses, which can occur through sharing dirty needles, unprotected sex, childbirth and blood transfusions. Alcohol and smoking are also risk factors.

Once the virus is acquired, it can take several decades to develop cancer. The disease is spreading at varying rates throughout the world because of the timing of exposure of different populations.

For example, in Japan, a public campaign to vaccinate for tuberculosis in the middle of the last century inadvertently spread the virus via unsanitary injection needles, Llovet said. Rates in Japan are still high but have leveled off, while in the U.S., the virus began spreading quickly in the 1970s with increasing use of illicit drugs with hypodermic needles, he said.

In the U.S., liver cancer cases are small, killing about 17,000 people annually, but the rate is growing faster than in many other countries.

((Reporting by Kim Dixon, editing by Tim Dobbyn; Reuters Messaging; kim.dixon.reuters.com@reuters.net; email; kim.dixon@reuters.com, 1-312 730 8364)) Keywords: CANCER LIVER/NEXAVAR

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