Lilly drops Alimta in head/neck cancer, test fails

MILAN, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Eli Lilly LLY.N dropped plans to seek approval for its established drug Alimta as a treatment for head and neck cancer on Monday after the medicine failed in a late-stage clinical trial.

The drug, which is already used in lung cancer and mesothelioma, did not improve overall survival in patients with head and neck cancer when combined with chemotherapy, according to data presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress.

Dr. Susan Urba of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, who led the Phase III trial, said the result was disappointing but perhaps not surprising, given the difficulty of tackling cancer of the head and neck.

Patients with recurrent or metastatic cancer of the head and neck given a combination of Alimta and cisplatin, a platinum-based chemotherapy, showed a median overall survival of 7.3 months compared with 6.3 months for those on cisplatin alone. The difference was not statistically significant.

The U.S. drugmaker said in a statement it no longer planned to seek U.S. or European marketing approval for Alimta as a treatment for the condition.

Alimta’s sales last year totalled $1.7 billion. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Holmes)