Roche, Merck & Co. Extend Immunotherapy Battle To Breast Cancer

Published: Oct 17, 2014

Roche, Merck & Co. Extend Immunotherapy Battle To Breast Cancer

October 17, 2014

By Jessica Wilson, Breaking News Staff

Swiss biopharma giant Roche and Merck & Co. will both present data on their respective immunotherapy drugs being developed for breast cancer at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in early December, heightening excitement around the so-called PD-1 blockers that are now being used to triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).

TNBC is a particularly difficult disease to treat because it does not respond to hormonal therapy or drugs that target HER2 receptors, such as Basel, Switzerland-based Roche’s own Herceptin. Roche’s PD-1 blocker is currently known as MPDL3280A, which has already received Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of bladder cancer.

White House Station, N.J.-based Merck’s competitor drug is Keytruda, which became the first PD-1 blocker approved by the FDA. Keytruda received approval for the treatment of advanced or unresectable melanoma in patients who are no longer responding to other drugs.

PD-1 blockers work by inhibiting a protein known as Programmed Death receptor that plays a part in “shield[ing] tumor cells from destruction by the immune system.” The result is the ramping up of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells, a treatment referred to as immunotherapy.

As reported in BioSpace yesterday, analysts believe this field could be worth $35 billion within a decade or so.

The companies cannot report the results of their trials before they attend the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, because of the event’s embargo policy.

The symposium, which is presented by the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at UT Health Science Center San Antonio, the American Association for Cancer Research and Baylor College of Medicine, is an important international event in the breast cancer research and treatment space. Organizers predict the symposium will attract approximately 7,500 attendees from more than 90 countries this year, including “academic and private physicians and researchers involved in breast cancer in medical, surgical, gynecologic, and radiation oncology, as well as other appropriate health care professionals.” Industry representatives, patient advocates and members of the press will also be in attendance.

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