Jan 23, 2015
  • Polycythemia vera (PV) is associated with overproduction of blood cells that can cause serious cardiovascular complications, such as stroke and heart attack[1]
  • Clinical data show Jakavi® (ruxolitinib) significantly improved hematocrit levels and reduced spleen size, key measures of disease control[2]
  • CHMP opinion marks a key milestone towards ruxolitinib becoming the first targeted treatment option for patients with PV in the EU

Basel, January 23, 2015 - The Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) adopted a positive opinion for Jakavi® (ruxolitinib) for the treatment of adult patients with polycythemia vera (PV) who are resistant to or intolerant of hydroxyurea[2]. If approved in the EU, ruxolitinib could provide the first targeted treatment option for these patients.

PV is a chronic, incurable blood cancer associated with an overproduction of blood cells that can cause serious cardiovascular complications, such as stroke and heart attack[1]. In PV, patients with resistance to or intolerance of hydroxyurea are considered to have uncontrolled disease, which is typically defined as hematocrit levels greater than 45%, elevated white blood cell count and/or platelet count, and may be accompanied by debilitating symptoms and/or enlarged spleen[1],[3],[4]. Elevated white blood cell count and hematocrit are also associated with an increased risk of blood clots[5].

"This positive CHMP opinion is encouraging news for patients with polycythemia vera who need effective treatment options," said Alessandro Riva, MD, Global Head, Novartis Oncology Development and Medical Affairs. "If approved, ruxolitinib will be the first-ever targeted therapy for polycythemia vera in the EU, a positive step forward for the rare blood cancer community in Europe and a major development in Novartis' continued commitment to help patients with high unmet needs." 

In the EU, the European Commission generally follows the recommendations of the CHMP and delivers its final decision within three months of the CHMP recommendation. The decision will be applicable to all 28 EU member states plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. Global regulatory applications for ruxolitinib in PV are currently ongoing, and further regulatory filings are under review by health authorities. Ruxolitinib, which is marketed in the US by Incyte Corporation as Jakafi®, received approval in December 2014 from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of patients with PV who have had an inadequate response to or are intolerant of hydroxyurea.

The CHMP recommendation was based on results from the pivotal Phase III RESPONSE clinical trial demonstrating that a significantly greater proportion of patients achieved the composite primary endpoint of hematocrit control (volume percentage of red blood cells in whole blood) without use of phlebotomy (a procedure to remove blood from the body to reduce the concentration of red blood cells) and spleen size reduction when treated with ruxolitinib compared to best available therapy (21% compared to 1%, respectively; p<0.0001)[1],[2]. In addition, a greater proportion of patients in the ruxolitinib treatment arm achieved complete hematologic remission, as defined by the modified 2009 European LeukemiaNet (ELN) criteria, when compared to the standard therapy arm (24% compared to 9%, respectively; p=0.003)[2]. The data also showed more patients treated with ruxolitinib had a durable primary response at week 48 compared to patients treated with standard therapy (19% compared to 1%, respectively; (p<0.0001)[2].

Overall, ruxolitinib was well tolerated, and non-hematologic adverse events (AEs) were consistent with those previously seen in ruxolitinib studies in PV and myelofibrosis[2],[6],[7]. Within the first 32 weeks of treatment, the most common Grade 3 or 4 hematologic AEs in the ruxolitinib treatment arm were anemia (1.8%) and thrombocytopenia (5.5%)[2]. The most common non-hematologic AEs were dizziness (15.5%), constipation (8.2%) and herpes zoster (6.4%)[2]. The three most frequent non-hematological laboratory abnormalities (any Grade) were hypercholesterolemia (30.0%), raised alanine aminotransferase (22.7%) and raised aspartate aminotransferase (20.9%), which were mainly Grade 1 and 2[2].

About the Pivotal Clinical Trial
RESPONSE is a global, randomized, open-label trial conducted at more than 90 trial sites. 222 patients with PV resistant to or intolerant of hydroxyurea were randomized 1:1 to receive either ruxolitinib (starting dose of 10 mg twice daily) or best available therapy, which was defined as investigator-selected monotherapy or observation only. Ruxolitinib dose was adjusted as needed throughout the trial. In the ruxolitinib arm, patients had a PV diagnosis for a median of 8.2 years and had previously received hydroxyurea for a median of approximately three years. Most patients (>80%) had received at least two phlebotomies in the last 24 weeks prior to screening[2]. Patients were classified as intolerant or resistant to hydroxyurea based on modified ELN defined criteria[8].

The primary endpoint of the trial was the proportion of patients whose hematocrit was controlled without phlebotomy eligibility from week 8 through 32 (with no more than one phlebotomy eligibility between randomization and week 8) and whose spleen volume was reduced by 35% or more from baseline as assessed by imaging at week 32. Patients in the trial who were deemed to be eligible for phlebotomy had hematocrit that was greater than 45% or had increased 3 or more percentage points from the time they entered the trial (e.g., at baseline). In addition, efficacy was further assessed using two key secondary endpoints: durable primary response and complete hematological remission. Other endpoints include safety and symptom improvement (as measured by the MPN-SAF 14-item total symptom score)[2].

About Polycythemia Vera
PV is a chronic, incurable blood cancer associated with an overproduction of blood cells in the bone marrow that affects roughly one to three people per 100,000 globally[1],[9]. The disease is driven by the dysregulation of the JAK-STAT pathway[10]. It is typically characterized by elevated hematocrit, the volume percentage of red blood cells in whole blood, which can lead to a thickening of the blood and an increased risk of blood clots, as well as an elevated white blood cell and platelet count[1]. This can cause serious cardiovascular complications, such as stroke and heart attack, resulting in increased morbidity and mortality[1],[5]. Additionally, patients with PV may have enlarged spleen and numerous debilitating symptoms that significantly affect their daily lives[1].

A common PV treatment includes phlebotomy, a procedure to remove blood from the body to reduce the concentration of red blood cells, which is used to help achieve a normal hematocrit level[1]. However, phlebotomy is usually unsuitable as a permanent treatment option due to its inability to control symptoms or effectively manage the overproduction of red blood cells, therefore cytoreductive agents, such as hydroxyurea, may be added[1],[5]. Unfortunately, approximately 25% of PV patients become resistant to or intolerant of hydroxyurea treatment according to ELN criteria, resulting in inadequate disease control and an increased risk of progression[3],[4].

About Jakavi
Jakavi (ruxolitinib) is an oral inhibitor of the JAK 1 and JAK 2 tyrosine kinases and was approved by the European Commission in August 2012 for the treatment of disease-related splenomegaly or symptoms in adult patients with primary myelofibrosis (also known as chronic idiopathic myelofibrosis), post-polycythemia vera myelofibrosis or post-essential thrombocythemia myelofibrosis. Jakavi is approved in more than 70 countries for patients with myelofibrosis, including the European Union, Canada, Japan and some countries in Asia, Latin and South America. Additional worldwide regulatory filings are underway in myelofibrosis and PV.

Novartis licensed ruxolitinib from Incyte Corporation for development and commercialization outside the United States. Both the European Commission and the FDA granted ruxolitinib orphan drug designation for myelofibrosis. Jakavi is marketed in the United States by Incyte Corporation under the name Jakafi® for the treatment of patients with intermediate or high-risk myelofibrosis. Jakafi was also recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of patients with polycythemia vera who have had an inadequate response to or are intolerant of hydroxyurea.

The recommended starting dose for Jakavi in patients with myelofibrosis is 15 mg twice daily for patients with a platelet count between 100,000 cubic millimeters (mm3) and 200,000 mm3, and 20 mg twice daily for patients with a platelet count of >200,000 mm3. Doses may be titrated based on safety and efficacy. There is limited information to recommend a starting dose for patients with platelet counts between 50,000/mm3 and <100,000/mm3. The maximum recommended starting dose in these patients is 5 mg twice daily, and patients should be titrated cautiously[2].

Jakavi is a registered trademark of Novartis AG in countries outside the United States. Jakafi is a registered trademark of Incyte Corporation. The safety and efficacy profile of Jakavi has not yet been established outside the approved indication.

Jakavi Important Safety Information for Treatment of Myelofibrosis
Jakavi can cause serious side effects, including a decrease in blood cell count and infections. Complete blood count monitoring is recommended. Dose reduction or interruption may be required in patients with any hepatic impairment or severe renal impairment or in patients developing hematologic adverse reactions such as thrombocytopenia, anemia and neutropenia. Dose reductions are also recommended when Jakavi is co-administered with strong CYP3A4 inhibitors or fluconazole. Use of Jakavi during pregnancy is not recommended, and women should avoid becoming pregnant during Jakavi therapy. Women taking Jakavi should not breast feed. The most common adverse drug reactions, occurring at any level of severity (incidence >10%) are urinary tract infections, anemia, thrombocytopenia, neutropenia, hypercholesterolemia, dizziness, headache, alanine aminotransaminase increased, asparte aminotransferase increased and bruising. Other common adverse drug reactions (incidence 1 to 10%) are herpes zoster, weight gain, flatulence and tuberculosis (1%). Progressive multifocal leukencephalopathy (PML) has been reported. Physicians should be alert for neuropsychiatric symptoms suggestive of PML[2]. Please see full Prescribing Information available at www.jakavi.com.

The foregoing release contains forward-looking statements that can be identified by words such as "recommended," "milestone," "positive opinion," "could," "positive CHMP opinion," "encouraging," "will," "step forward," "commitment," "ongoing," "under review," "recommendation," "underway," or similar terms, or by express or implied discussions regarding potential new indications or labeling for Jakavi, or regarding potential future revenues from Jakavi. You should not place undue reliance on these statements. Such forward-looking statements are based on the current beliefs and expectations of management regarding future events, and are subject to significant known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements. There can be no guarantee that Jakavi will be submitted or approved for any additional indications or labeling in any market, or at any particular time. Nor can there be any guarantee that Jakavi will be commercially successful in the future. In particular, management's expectations regarding Jakavi could be affected by, among other things, unexpected regulatory actions or delays or government regulation generally; the uncertainties inherent in research and development, including unexpected clinical trial results and additional analysis of existing clinical data; the company's ability to obtain or maintain proprietary intellectual property protection; general economic and industry conditions; global trends toward health care cost containment, including ongoing pricing pressures; unexpected manufacturing issues, and other risks and factors referred to in Novartis AG's current Form 20-F on file with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Novartis is providing the information in this press release as of this date and does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained in this press release as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

About Novartis
Novartis provides innovative healthcare solutions that address the evolving needs of patients and societies. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis offers a diversified portfolio to best meet these needs: innovative medicines, eye care, cost-saving generic pharmaceuticals, preventive vaccines and over-the-counter products. Novartis is the only global company with leading positions in these areas. In 2013, the Group achieved net sales of USD 57.9 billion, while R&D throughout the Group amounted to approximately USD 9.9 billion (USD 9.6 billion excluding impairment and amortization charges). Novartis Group companies employ approximately 130,000 full-time-equivalent associates and sell products in more than 150 countries around the world. For more information, please visit http://www.novartis.com.

Novartis is on Twitter. Sign up to follow @Novartis at http://twitter.com/novartis.

[1] Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. "Polycythemia Vera Facts." Available at: http://www.lls.org/content/nationalcontent/resourcecenter/freeeducationmaterials/mpd/pdf/polycythemiavera.pdf. Accessed on April 28, 2014.
[2] Jakavi® (ruxolitinib) Summary of Product Characteristics. Basel, Switzerland: Novartis Pharma AG; January 2015.
[3] Alvarez-Larran A, et al. Assessment and Prognostic Value of The European Leukemianet Criteria for Clinicohematologic Response, Resistance, and Intolerance to Hydroxyurea in Polycythemia Vera. Blood. 2012;119(6):1363-1369.
[4] Najean Y, Dresch C, Rain JD. The Very-Long-Term Course of Polycythaemia: A Complement to the Previously Published Data of The Polycythaemia Vera Study Group. Br J Haematol. 1994;86(1):233-235.
[5] Finazzi G and Barbui T. How I Treat Patients with Polycythemia Vera. Blood. 2007;109(12):5104-5111.
[6] Vannucchi, A, et al. Long-Term Outcomes from a Phase 3 Study Comparing Ruxolitinib with Best Available Therapy (BAT) for the Treatment of Myelofibrosis (MF): A 3 Year Update of Comfort II. Abstract #S1111.18th Congress of European Hematology Association (EHA), 2013. Stockholm, Sweden.
[7] Verstovsek S, Ruben M, Gotlib J, et al. Long-Term Outcome of Ruxolitinib Therapy in Patients with Myelofibrosis: 3-Year Update from COMFORT-I. Abstract #396. 55th American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting and Exposition, 2013. New Orleans, LA.
[8] Barosi G, Birgegard G, Finazzi G, et al. Response Criteria for Essential Thrombocythemia and Polycythemia Vera: Result of a European LeukemiaNet Consensus Conference. Blood. 2009 May 14;113(20):4829-33.
[9] Titmarsh G, Duncombe A, McMullin M, et al. How Common are Myeloproliferative Neoplasms? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. American Journal of Hematology. 2014:1-7.
[10] Schafer AI. Molecular Basis of the Diagnosis and Treatment of Polycythemia Vera and Essential Thrombocythemia. Blood. 2006;107(11):4214-4222.

# # #

Novartis Media Relations

Central media line : +41 61 324 2200  
Eric Althoff
Novartis Global Media Relations
+41 61 324 7999 (direct)
+41 79 593 4202 (mobile)
[email protected]
Maureen Byrne
Novartis Oncology
+1 862 778 1518 (direct)
+1 973 714 0063 (mobile)
[email protected]

e-mail: [email protected]

For Novartis multimedia content, please visit www.thenewsmarket.com/Novartis
For questions about the site or required registration, please contact: [email protected].

Novartis Investor Relations

Central phone: +41 61 324 7944    
Samir Shah +41 61 324 7944 North America:  
Pierre-Michel Bringer +41 61 324 1065 Richard Pulik +1 212 830 2448
Thomas Hungerbuehler +41 61 324 8425 Susan Donofrio +1 862 778 9257
Isabella Zinck +41 61 324 7188    
e-mail: [email protected] e-mail: [email protected]