FILE PHOTO: Novartis' logo is seen at the cell and gene therapy factory of the Swiss drugmaker in Stein, Switzerland, November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

An oral drug combination by Novartis showed promise in treating a subgroup of patients suffering from a common childhood brain cancer in a trial.

In the mid-stage trial, 47 per cent of the patients that were given the two drugs Tafinlar and Mekinist saw their tumours shrink, far above a rate of 11 per cent in a comparative group of participants on standard chemotherapy, the drugmaker said on Monday, June 6.

The participants, aged one to 17 years, were suffering from low-grade gliomas (LGG), the most common childhood brain cancer.

The trial only included those who were found to have a mutation known as BRAF V600, a genetic contributor in about 15 per cent to 20 per cent of paediatric LGG cases.

Among further results of the trial with 110 participants, the median time without disease progression was 20.1 months for those given the Novartis drug combo, compared to 7.4 months on chemotherapy.

The new oral treatment candidate also caused less severe side effects than burdensome chemotherapy.

Tafinlar and Mekinist, a pill combination with $1.7 billion in 2021 sales, up 10 per cent, had previously won approvals to treat certain skin, lung and thyroid cancer patients who have the BRAF V600 genetic change.

It is an important growth driver in Novartis’s oncology business, a key therapeutic area for the Swiss group, which relies on drug development as it considers the sale of its Sandoz business with off-patent generic drugs.

For the childhood brain cancer trial, a more convenient liquid form was used for the first time.

The data, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) on Monday (June 6), will be submitted to regulators as part of a request for approval, Novartis added.

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