At a glance: Antisoma ups comms for cancer 'breakthrough'

Why is the biotech company in the news at the moment?
Last week it released data from a phase II trial of an experimental lung cancer drug, currently called AS1404. In trials, 34 patients using the new drug on top of a course of chemotherapy lived an average of 14 months, compared with 8.8 months for 36 patients on chemotherapy alone.

Isn't PR often quite tentative at these early stages?
Not this time. Buchanan Communi­cations is Antisoma's retained financial agency but the biotech firm's director of comms, Daniel Elger, also brought Clew Communications on board on the basis that the results would create wider interest.

And did they?
Many of the nationals ran pieces on the trial, with reporting of the main finding - that of increased survival - prominent. The PR teams also pushed the idea that this 5.2 month difference is one of the largest seen in a lung-cancer trial that combines a drug with front-line chemotherapy.

Doesn't that make this purely a ‘consumer' story?
Not at all. While Clew was talking to health correspondents, Buchanan concentrated on analysts and journalists to talk about the commercial side of the results.

So there is investor interest?
Antisoma, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, buys promising cancer treatments from academic and charitable bodies and develops them, so potential investors are a vital audience for the PR teams. One of the company's main shareholders is Roche, which makes lung cancer treatments Avastin and Tarceva. It has an agreement with Antisoma for worldwide exclusive rights to AS1404.

And is there a relationship with Cancer Research UK?
The threads need a little bit of unpicking, but AS1404 was discovered by scientists in New Zealand, and Cancer Research UK funded phase I testing and some studies in the UK and NZ. The charity's research arm then licensed the drug to Antisoma.

What's next?
Phase III trials will be next year. If they show similar success, then the new drug could be ready for market as early as 2009. Antisoma says it also has a raft of data for AS1404's effect on prostate and ovarian cancers that it plans to ‘cascade' over coming months.

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