In 1998, Endostatin, a protein that inhibits blood vessel growth, was touted as a silver bullet for cancer after tests in mice showed it killed tumors by cutting off their blood supply. But six years later, the future looked bleak: Fortune magazine said the angiogenesis inhibitor “failed dramatically” in clinical trials, and EntreMed, a Maryland biotech company, abandoned the drug in 2004 after flirting with bankruptcy.
But Endostatin is not dead yet, according to its creator, Judah Folkman, M.D., who spoke at Yale in October. Folkman, a Harvard researcher, said both reports exaggerated the reality. His work led to FDA approval in 2004 of another angiogenesis drug, Avastin, which is expected to reach $6 billion in sales and may become the largest-selling anticancer drug in history.
Three weeks before Folkman’s Yale talk, China approved an Endostatin product developed and tested by the Chinese biotech company Medgenn. A trial involving 493 late-stage lung cancer patients showed that its Endostar drug was effective, doubling survival time from three to six months when combined with chemotherapy. Folkman hopes the Chinese findings will revive the future of Endostatin in the American market. “It’s had a tough life,” he said, “but it’s been resuscitated.”