Starpharma Sensationalism – MkII

As a number of (slightly cocky and goading) readers pointed out today, my prior post on Starpharma’s utterly stupid pre-clinical announcement had a major flaw. In the interest of being comprehensive, I would like to make an additional follow-up comment, while simultaneously acknowledging my own incompetence and stupidity.

I was too busy telling you about the gaps in Starpharma’s underwhelming mouse study. I was so busy reacting with ridicule that in climbing over itself to make a completely sensationalist but irrelevant ASX announcement, presumably ahead of the AGM later this week, that Starpharma didn’t actually bother finishing the animal studies (still ongoing, apparently). I was so busy trying to calibrate you on the lack of controls and the basic lack of meaningful scientific information, that I forgot something super important.

What is that you may ask?

Well, the super-important information that I didn’t see – but that several other people did – was the lack of basic efficacy of the Herceptin (naked antibody) and Kadcyla (ADC) comparative treatment arms. Duh. Below is a figure from a nice paper in Clinical Cancer Research from 2011 that shows the type of response we expect to see in a SKOV-3 model with Herceptin. I should note that the Herceptin (trastuzumab) tumour response in this model is very typical.

What a SKOV-3 tumour response looks like for trastuzumab, pertuzumab and combination therapies (from Clin Cancer Res)

What a SKOV-3 tumour response looks like for trastuzumab, pertuzumab and combination therapies (from Clin Cancer Res). You can sort of ignore the pertuzumab/combo graphs, but take a look at the typical SKOV-3 response for Herceptin.

It’s not even that the growth curves look just plain wrong (assuming a therapeutic dose was given) it’s that Starpharma’s presentation of the treatment response of the tumours in a Herceptin-sensitive model look basically the same as the control (saline).

Go back and look for yourself.

SPL's data from their ASX announcement is dubious because the anti-Her2 treatment arms and saline (control) have the same tumour growth profile in a model that is known to response well to both Herceptin and Kadcyla. Why is this?

SPL’s data from their ASX announcement is dubious because the anti-Her2 treatment arms and saline (control) have the same tumour growth profile in a model that is known to respond well to both Herceptin and Kadcyla. Why is this?

So yes, the message you should take home is this : not only was Starphama’s basic scientific integrity poor, and not only was the data incomplete, but the actual data itself is probably crap. I should also add that not only is it surprising that the company shows basically nil treatment effect in a Her2+ xenograft model that is known to respond well to Herceptin (and also Kadycla), but also limited administrated dose information is disclosed (route of administration, rationale given that it is an unusual dosing profile) for the comparative treatment arms. If I am being a stickler, there was also no data on animal weight loss (to contextualise tumour volume changes), which would be de rigeur

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, and I am not just talking about myself here.

The bottom line is this. Biotech companies that have integrity don’t do very preliminary, very unvalidated experiments (i.e. that have not been repeated) and then issue a press release. They especially don’t issue a press release with the kind of headlines and ancillary commercial language such that some regulatory jockey at the ASX goes “ooh, this looks big” and marks it price sensitive.

This stunt is nothing more than share price manipulation in advance of an AGM, and it’s shameful.

6 thoughts on “Starpharma Sensationalism – MkII

  1. I feel there is a competition on the ASX on who has the best animal data. PYC, NRT or SPL…
    with all the money they have, the best they can do is announce sketchy animal model data. ASX is full of incompetence


  2. Nice one Chris re Starpharma. You should have a look at GTG and their Brevagen breast cancer genetic predisposition multiplex SNP test. There is a Starpharma connection.

    According to GTG’s latest ASX announcement,it works fine in Hispanics and African Americans. It didn’t work so well in the previous caucasian GTG CEO (Allison Mews). She was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. Some months earlier she was tested as a part of GTG in-house Brevagen QA and came up “All Clear”, then embarrassingly diagnosed. She consequently resigned/was pushed? Another dud cancer diagnostic? This was confirmed to me by a former EU GTG consultant I ran into in Vienna a few months back at an investment seminar.

    So now to the Starpharma connection. Allison Mews was featured in a HS article earlier this year as a breast cancer patient being trialed under a STP protocol, link below. Nowhere does it mention Allison was GTG’s former CEO and part of a team involved in attempting to commercialize Brevagen (interesting failed history re US company that originally developed the test)


    Chemotherapy trial offers relief | HeraldSun VICTORIAN patients are trialling chemotherapy with a new technological twist that aims to boost the effectiveness of the drug and ease its debilitating side effects. Read more…



    Ps, Keep up the good work



    • Yep – I am aware.

      I am writing a piece on GTG, but I am struggling with it. On the one hand, we need tools that “amplify” risk in minority groups where a heightened sense of poor outcome earlier is probably good for the patient (i.e. giving an MRI, or prophylactic tamoxifan). On the other hand, I can’t help but “sniff” a racial undertone, that this v2.0 Brevagen test – for whatever it is worth – is about avoiding a labeling along the lines of “suitable for Caucasian women only.”

      Yukky yukky… yet marketing ugliness aside, is that not genetics? It’s a tough one. It piques the bioethicist in me.

      Long Tail
      Ps: Thanks for reading


  3. Pingback: For Personal use Only | The Long Tail

  4. Pingback: Starpharma : The Third Installment | The Long Tail

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