Two Roche Cancer Drugs Get Disappointing Results


Bad news for Roche Holding AG. Two of its cancer drugs, Tecentriq and taselisib, have been shown to provide only modest protection from disease progression. The findings were released at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago on Saturday.

Tecentriq shows limitations with lung cancer

In one study, combining Roche's immunotherapy drug Tecentriq with other standard cancer drugs extended by only about three weeks the median time patients with advanced squamous cell lung cancer lived before their disease progressed.

This finding comes at a time when Roche is under pressure to show success for the drug, which is central to replacing falling revenue from older, off-patent medicines. Already approved for previously treated patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer and certain patients with advanced bladder cancer, Tecentriq was predicted to achieve about $6 billion in sales by 2024.

Currently, sales of Tecentriq are lagging behind two rival therapies that also spur the body’s immune system to attack tumors. Those are Keytruda from Merck & Co. and Opdivo from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Roche said it will continue to evaluate results from the study presented on Saturday.

Taselisib development halted

In another study released on Saturday, adding Roche’s experimental drug, taselisib, to hormone therapy extended by just two months the length of time women with advanced breast cancer lived before their disease worsened. Patients on the drug also experienced serious side effects.

These findings caused the Swiss cancer giant to pull the plug on a planned FDA submission and halt all plans to further test the drug in other types of cancer.

Details about the Tecentriq study

The new Tecentriq trial studied 1,021 patients with late-stage squamous advanced non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for about 30 percent of lung cancers and is considered particularly difficult to treat.

One group of patients received the Roche drug plus the chemotherapy carboplatin and Celgene Corp’s Abraxane, while a second group was only treated with carboplatin and Abraxane.

After 12 months, 25 percent of patients given the Tecentriq combination had not experienced disease progression compared with 12 percent in the chemotherapy group. But median progression-free survival was 6.3 months for Tecentriq patients versus 5.6 months for the standard chemotherapy combination.

The modest benefit was observed regardless of tumor PDL1 levels, researchers said. The analysis did not find an overall survival advantage with Tecentriq, although Roche said those data are not yet mature.

Details about the taselisib study

Patients who received the experimental taselisib drug plus fulvestrant hormone therapy saw their breast cancer worsen after a median of 7.4 months compared with 5.4 months for people who received fulvestrant alone.

The trial involved 516 postmenopausal women with advanced estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, whose disease had progressed or returned after prior treatment.

Serious side effects in the taselisib group included diarrhea, high blood sugar and colon inflammation, leading 17 percent of treated patients to drop out of the trial.

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