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Pfizer/Samsung Collaboration to Focus on PGx Strategies to Personalize Liver Cancer Treatments in Korea

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Originally published July 16.

By Turna Ray

In a collaboration announced this week, Pfizer and Korea's Samsung Medical Center will employ gene signatures in the development drug/diagnostic combination products for the personalized treatment of liver cancer.

“The initial phase of the collaboration will be to characterize hepatocellular carcinoma in terms of 'genetic signatures'” involving “an integrated analysis of DNA copy number and RNA expression,” Pfizer Oncology Chief Scientific Officer Neil Gibson told Pharmacogenomics Reporter this week.

Under the terms of the partnership, Samsung will provide samples from Korean patients for genetic analysis. Pfizer, in turn, will conduct the genomic profiling and provide computational biology expertise in order to link gene signatures to patient outcomes.

While Gibson will lead research at Pfizer, the Samsung team from Seoul will be led by Park Cheol-Guen, Im Ho-Young, and Paik Soon-Myung, director of Samsung's Cancer Research Center. Samsung Medical Center in 2009 joined the "Group of Leading Research-based Hospitals," a national project of South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare that facilitates partnerships between local research hospitals and local and global pharmaceutical companies in order to to treat the country's unmet health challenges.

In the Pfizer/Samsung alliance, the researchers are planning to analyze copy number and RNA expression in order to “define hepatocellular carcinoma into distinct segments, where each segment has common elements in terms of genetic drivers of disease progression,” Gibson explained.

Ultimately, Pfizer is hoping to identify therapeutic strategies for genetically defined subpopulations of patients. “We have a number of mechanisms that may benefit form this type of approach in our early development portfolio,” Gibson said.

One mechanism Pfizer and Samsung will be investigating further is the amplification of the 6P chromosome in Korean patients known to overexpress VEGF. “In the future we would like to look at whether these specific patients are more sensitive to VEGF inhibition than the unselected patient population,” Gibson said. “This type of work is not the current focus of the research, but our collaboration with Samsung is likely to evolve in that direction.”

Sutent is a VEGF inhibitor developed by Pfizer that is currently approved in the US for the treatment of advanced kidney cancer and Gleevec-resistant gastrointestinal stromal tumors. According to Pfizer's pipeline, Sutent is in Phase III trials for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma.

In a statement announcing its collaboration with Samsung, Pfizer said that treatments for liver cancer are an unmet medical need in Asian populations and expressed its desire “to address the growing need for an anticancer drug treating liver cancer in the Asian market in the future.”

Pfizer has been investing in the development of genetically targeted drugs, particularly in the area of oncology. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting this year, the company presented several studies describing its efforts to personalize marketed drugs for new subpopulations of cancer patients, as well as promising data on entirely new oncologics it is developing with the aid of companion genetic tests (PGx Reporter 06/09/10).

Additionally, as a global pharmaceutical company Pfizer has made moves to expand into the Asian market with personalized medicine products. Earlier this year, Pfizer, Lilly and Merck formed the Asian Cancer Research Group, aiming to share pre-competitive genomics data in order to advance the development of targeted treatments for lung and gastric cancers in Asians (PGx Reporter 02/24/10).

In Asia, Pfizer has made significant inroads with South Korean researchers. The company signed a memorandum of understanding with the country's Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2007, agreeing to invest $300 million in R&D in the country. Pfizer at this time also formed a strategic research partnership with the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology.

In addition to the current partnership around liver cancer, Korean research institutions are also involved in the development of crizotinib, an investigational Pfizer drug that, with the help of a FISH test, has been shown to be effective as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer in patients with the EML4-ALK-fusion oncogene.

Gibson noted that while Pfizer's research collaboration with Samsung will focus on Korean patients, the genomic signatures that are discovered “may be applicable to any group of patients with that same signature.” Thus, patients harboring these gene signatures may be “excellent candidates for therapeutic modalities whose mechanisms would be expected to benefit [them], regardless of their global location.”

Furthermore, while the ACRG's focus is on gastric and lung cancers in Asian populations, if that collaboration uncovers data that may be relevant to liver cancer, “it will be used by the Pfizer-Samsung team to enhance the quality of the work we will perform,” Gibson said.

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