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(Corrects survival time for breast cancer patients in third paragraph, percentage of HER2 patients in sixth, and Dietmar Berger’s role in penultimate paragraph of story originally published yesterday.)
Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Mixing drugs in various combinations has given Roche Holding AG effective new treatments for skin and breast cancer strains.
Combining Zelboraf, a melanoma drug now on the market, with experimental cobimetinib showed significant improvement over Zelboraf alone, according to data presented today at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual meeting in Madrid.
Roche said yesterday that a combination of two breast cancer drugs, plus chemotherapy, could add almost 16 months to the lives of a class of patients. Roche today also reported data from an early-stage study of its MPDL3280A immune therapy treatment in bladder cancer which showed a 52 percent response rate. If successfully developed, the drug will be the first new treatment for bladder cancer in 30 years, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said.
“This is a good meeting for Roche,” said Asthika Goonewardene, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “They’re firing in three different areas.”
About 76,100 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year and about 9,710 people will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Zelboraf, developed with Tokyo-based Daiichi Sankyo Co., was approved in the U.S. in 2011. Roche hopes to file for approval later this year for cobimetinib, which it is developing with South San Francisco- based Exelixis Inc. The stock rose 28 percent in pre-market U.S. trading today.
The breast cancer results were six years in the making, and showed that adding Perjeta to the standard treatment of Herceptin plus chemotherapy for women with HER2-positive breast cancer could extend survival to five years. About 20 percent of breast-cancer patients are HER2-positive.
The drug combination should be a “new paradigm for treatment,” said Luca Gianni, a breast-cancer expert from San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, who discussed the findings after they were presented.
“I looked for weaknesses and frankly, I couldn’t find many,” Gianni said. “It’s a new standard, and not an option, for first-line treatment of HER2 metastatic breast cancer.”
Only about half of women in that class of patients now receive Perjeta, according to Roche, which owns the drug’s developer, South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc. Revenue for Perjeta, first approved in the U.S. in 2012, could reach $2.5 billion by 2017, according to an average of analyst estimates.
The melanoma study showed that the combination of Zelboraf and cobimetinib work together to target both the BRAF and MEK proteins, which are drivers for the cancer in patients who have a mutation in their BRAF gene. Using Zelboraf alone would combat just the BRAF protein, resulting in a potential re-occurrence of the disease by activation of the MEK protein.
“We’re taking an effective drug for melanoma and adding another and still getting quite striking results,” said Grant McArthur, the study’s lead author.
Patients in the combination study showed 9.9 months of progression-free survival, compared to 6.2 months for those taking Zelboraf plus a placebo.
The study results are “a validation of our science,” said Dietmar Berger, who leads Roche’s clinical development of oncology drugs. “Our science is very deep and that leads to a broad portfolio based on a very good understanding of what drives tumor biology.”
Another study at the conference showed that a combination of two drugs from GlaxoSmithKline Plc are also more effective in melanoma than Zelboraf alone. The two drugs, Mekinist and Tafinlar, are part of the oncology business purchased by Novartis AG.
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