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Drugmaker Roche announces trial successes in cancer, haemophilia

[ZURICH] Roche announced a double dose of trial wins on Monday, saying its immunotherapy Tecentriq mixed with other drugs made advances against lung cancer, while data suggested its haemophilia agent Hemlibra could be used by more patients.

With lung cancer easily the largest oncology market, Roche's Impower 150 trial of Tecentriq, Avastin and chemotherapy has been closely watched as the Swiss drugmaker seeks to catch up with rivals in cancer immunotherapy.

Roche said the cocktail "provided a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction" in the risk of disease worsening or death compared to Avastin plus chemotherapy in first-line treatment of advanced non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Roche shares were seen rising 2.3 per cent, according to pre-market indicators.

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"We are extremely encouraged by these results and will submit these data to health authorities globally with the goal of bringing a potential new standard of care for the initial treatment of lung cancer," said Sandra Horning, Roche's chief medical officer.

She added initial observations for the combination's impact on improving overall survival were "encouraging" and will be reported in the first half of 2018.

Roche plans to present Monday's data at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Immuno Oncology Congress in Geneva in December.

In a separate Hemlibra study, Roche said the new US$482,000-per-year drug cut the risk of treated bleeds in patients who have not developed resistance to standard therapy, compared to those receiving no preventative treatment.

Hemlibra's latest result comes after the medicine was approved last week in the United States for patients with resistance to clotting factors.

Roche said it would now work with regulators to expand the treatment to all haemophilia sufferers.

Tecentriq and Hemlibra, along with multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, are pillars of Roche chief executive Severin Schwan's plan to offset declining sales of older medicines with new blockbusters.

So far, however, Tecentriq's sales - expected at around US$500 million this year - pale in comparison to better established agents Keytruda from Merck and Opdivo from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Keytruda, which analysts see reaching US$3.7 billion in sales this year, has an edge in lung cancer after US approval as a first-line treatment. Estimates for Opdivo foresee 2017 revenue rising nearly four-fold to US$4.8 billion.

Still, Monday's Impower 150 readout, while giving only bare details, may help Roche make up ground, since results from Merck's and BMS's own combination lung cancer trials are still some way off.

Merck in October delayed its Keytruda-and-chemotherapy combination study while withdrawing a European application for first-line lung cancer approval.

Meanwhile, BMS's lung cancer trial of Opdivo and another checkpoint inhibitor, Yervoy, is not due to read out until next year.