Biotech investors are accustomed to reading about negative clinical trials in which an experimental drug shows no benefit for patients. On Monday night, however, we learned about two different drugs from Vical (VICL) and Anthera Pharmaceuticals (ANTH) which actually harmed patients.
Clinical trials are supposed to be overseen by independent monitors responsible for ensuring the safety of enrolled patients. If a drug is found to be causing patients harm, these monitors can halt the clinical trial.
The Anthera phase III clinical trial, which involved a heart drug known as varespladib, was stopped early in March 2012, although the reason given by the company at that time was "lack of efficacy."
On Monday night -- 20 months after the study was halted -- the varespladib data were presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2013. "Lack of efficacy" is apparently a generous way of saying that patients with acute coronary syndrome were more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes -- or even die -- following treatment with varespladib compared to a placebo.
"Despite prior experimental and observational data suggesting that varespladib would have beneficial cardiovascular effects, this trial proves the contrary, that it is actually detrimental to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality," said Dr. Stephen Nicholls, a cardiologist and investigator in the study.
Why did it take 20 months for results of the varespladib study to be known? Because Anthera refused to grant researchers access to the negative varespladib trial data, said Nicholls.
"This trial was appropriately conducted and a logical extension of the phase 2 program, and the sponsor [Anthera] did the right thing and accepted immediately the recommendation by the DSMB to terminate the study," Nicholls said, quoted in a story published by HeartWire.