Roche Throws in the Towel on a Host of Early, Late-Stage Drug Candidates


In September 2017, Roche’s Phase III eye drug lampalizumab failed to meet endpoints as a treatment for geographic atrophy (GA) due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Today the company revealed it has scrapped the program.

Had lampalizumab met its endpoints, analysts were pegging that sales could reach billions of dollars in revenue. Not anymore. Along with lampalizumab, Roche announced it was culling several drug programs in its latest financial filing.

First reported by FierceBiotech, Roche’s financial reports indicated it was cutting a total of four drugs. Lampalizumab was the only late stage product. The other three drugs are all in Phase I development. The Swiss pharma giant has also terminated two oncology programs and a therapy aimed at treating schizophrenia. Roche is terminating RG7203, which is a selective small molecule inhibitor of phosphodiesterase 10A. The two oncology drugs Roche also said it was cutting are RG7986, for refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The company also cut RG6047, a treatment for metastatic estrogen receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer, FierceBiotech reported.

The pipeline cuts are among some of the latest the company has made since last summer. In July, the company announced it was reprioritizing its pipeline following a string of failed drug trials and challenges from the growing biosimilar market.

In a talk with reporters this morning, Roche Chief Executive Officer Severin Schwan acknowledged the negative impact biosimilar drugs will have on the company’s revenue streams from older drugs. However, he said that the company believes its portfolio strength and the launch of new drugs will offset for any biosimilar impact, Reuters reported.

“There is definitely the chance that we will not simply compensate for biosimilars, but that we will be able to overcompensate with our new drugs,” Schwan said.

That holds true with what analyst John Rountree of Novasecta said last year after Roche suffered a number of clinical setbacks, including the failure of lampalizumab. Rountree said Roche continues to innovate and invest a lot of money in research and development.

In his talk with reporters, Schwan pointed to three drugs that should continue to serve as strong drivers for the company. He pointed to multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, immunotherapy Tecentriq and lung cancer Drug Alecensa. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Ocrevus in March 2017. It is the first and only approved disease-modifying therapy for primary progressive form of MS. The company anticipates that Ocrevus could become a blockbuster drug in 2018, Bloomberg reported.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Schwan said that more than two-thirds of the company’s growth stems from recently launched medicines. He said those sales will continue to grow this year and allow the company to compensate for any revenue losses from older drugs, such as Avastin and Rituxan.  

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