Melanoma Vaccine—AVAX Technologies: DNP-VACC, M-Vax

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BioDrugs: Clinical Immunotherapeutics, Biopharmaceuticals and Gene Therapy 2003, 17 (1): 69-72
Adis CommentsAVAX Technologies is developing a therapeutic melanoma vaccine [M-Vax, DNP-VACC] consisting of autologous tumour cells conjugated to a highly immunogenic hapten, dinitrophenyl, which makes the cancer cells more easily recognised by the immune system. AVAX licensed the autologous cell vaccine technology (AC Vaccine) from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, USA, where it was originally developed. M-Vax was launched in Australia in the first half of 2000, but was withdrawn from this market in September 2002 due to financial constraints faced by the company and its need to focus its resources on initiatives that provide the greatest return. Although AVAX applied for Federal Government price reimbursement in Australia through the Medical Services Advisory Committee during 2001, the vaccine is not reimbursed in Australia. Obtaining Federal Government reimbursement was a step AVAX considered essential for the success of the M-Vax. AVAX has not ruled out re-entering the Australian market again at a later date. AVAX will now concentrate on gaining approval in the US and Europe. M-Vax has received orphan drug designation from the US FDA. M-Vax is in preregistration in Germany, Japan and The Netherlands for treatment of stage III melanoma. In September 1999, the company announced that it expected to market M-Vax for treatment of stage III melanoma in Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. This announcement came after AVAX's continuing dialogue with senior regulatory authorities in several pharmaceutical markets. The commercial availability of M-Vax in Germany, Japan and The Netherlands will be subject to meeting certain requirements specified by the regulatory agency in each country. Phase II data have been submitted for regulatory approval in these countries; phase III data may not be required because the vaccine contains autologous tumour cells. This was the case with the Australian approval of M-Vax, which was on the basis of data from phase II trials. Clinical development: M-Vax was in a pivotal phase III trial for treatment of stage III melanoma in the US, and a multicentre phase II trial in the US for treatment of patients with stage IV melanoma with lung metastases. However, in late March 2001, AVAX announced that the FDA had suspended these trials until the agency had further reviewed them. Subsequently, AVAX received written communication from the FDA indicating that the suspension is related to manufacturing issues. These events triggered the resignations of AVAX's executive Vice-President and Vice-President of operations, at the request of the company's board of directors. AVAX met with the FDA in October 2001 to discuss the clinical holds on M-Vax and O-Vax. AVAX's proposed improvements involving a frozen vaccine were also discussed at the meeting. Following the meeting AVAX was told by the FDA that selected characterisation work would have to be carried out on the new products, and new INDs submitted. In December 2001 AVAX announced that the development of a frozen vaccine and changes to various policies and procedures would ensure that the company complied with the FDA regulations. A new IND was submitted to the FDA for M-Vax in September 2002. In August 2002, AVAX had been unsure whether following approval of its new IND it would re-initiate clinical development for both M-Vax and O-Vax in parallel, or advance one of the agents and wait for further funding for the other. However, in September it indicated that clinical trials of both vaccines would be conducted following approval of the IND. A total of 42 patients are to be enrolled in each trial. In October 2002, AVAX announced that the US FDA had no outstanding issues regarding the IND. AVAX can now proceed with clinical trials as planned. AVAX Technologies was enrolling patients with stage III melanoma in the pivotal US phase III trial for registration of M-Vax trade ed, multicentre trial designed to compare the efficacy of the vaccine against high-dose interferon-alpha, the standard post-surgical treatment for stage III melanoma. The two end-points are rate of melanoma tumour recurrence and overall survival. The dosing regimen chosen for this study is that which was found from several clinical studies to be most effective at eliciting a positive delayed-type hypersensitivity skin response to autologous melanoma cells. The study was being conducted at more than 20 US sites. A low dose of M-Vax was also being evaluated in a phase II study at Thomas Jefferson University in the US. On 16 March 2000, AVAX announced promising interim results from this study, which revealed that 65% of 23 evaluated patients developed an immune response of the same magnitude as that observed with higher doses of M-Vax in previous studies. The study was to enroll a total of 46 patients, who were to receive seven doses of M-Vax over 7 weeks. The advantage of using a low dose of M-Vax is that it requires a smaller amount of the patient's tumour tissue to produce the vaccine (approximately half that required in previous studies) and therefore more patients would be eligible for treatment. On the basis of these results, AVAX modified the pivotal phase III trial to use the low dose of M-Vax to treat additional patients with smaller tumours. On 29 March 2000, AVAX announced that it had initiated a multicentre phase II study in the US in patients with stage IV melanoma and lung metastases. Patients were receiving seven doses of M-Vax at weekly intervals and a booster at 6 months. AVAX initiated the study because of promising results in a study of stage IV melanoma patients with lung metastases in which patients treated with M-Vax had tumour regression and prolonged survival. Commercial agreements: In June 1999, AVAX announced its first international commercialisation opportunity for M-Vax, in Australia, where the company subsequently launched the vaccine (now withdrawn) in the first half of 2000. AVAX formed a subsidiary, AVAX Australia, which was co-marketing M-Vax in Australia together with Australian Vaccine Technologies (formerly Neptunus International Holdings). Under the terms of this agreement, Australian Vaccine Technologies purchased dollars A10 million in shares, a 50% interest, in AVAX Australia. The final dollars A3 million installment was made in August 2000. AVAX had an option to purchase up to 5% of shares in Australian Vaccine Technologies. In August 2002, AVAX extended and expanded an existing production agreement with Medigene for approximately 1 year. Under the terms of the agreement, Genopoietic (Medigene) in France will process clinical samples of M-Vax. In October 2002, AVAX signed a distribution agreement with Ferrer International, SA (Grupo Ferrer) for sales and distribution of the AC Vaccines, including M-Vax and O-Vax. The agreement covers Europe, Latin America and certain Asian territories. Under the terms of the agreement AVAX will retain manufacturing rights and will sell the vaccine to Ferrer. In return, Ferrer will make payments to AVAX for the product as well as certain milestone payments for marketing and registration goals. M-Vax was manufactured in Australia by Bioenterprises, a subsidiary of Biotech Australia. However, in 2002, the manufacturer underwent an acquisition with significant changes, which resulted in its decision to discontinue manufacturing M-Vax.

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