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Roche's lung cancer success spells competition for BMS’ Opdivo

Published on 10/10/16 at 10:21am

Roche’s immune-system booster drug Tecentriq (atezolizumab) may cause trouble in the lung cancer field for leader Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo according to successful study data presented at the annual European Society of Medical Oncology congress.

Patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who were treated with the drug lived a median of 13.8 months, 4.2 months longer on average than those taking chemotherapy drug docetaxel. The 1,225 person study examined sufferers of locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC whose disease had progressed after receiving treatment with platinum-containing chemotherapy. The results showed that Roche’s drug worked even in those with low-to-zero levels of PD-L1, an immune-system-suppressing protein which is often used as an accurate gauge of immunotherapy suitability.

The drug’s effect was greater in patients with high levels of PD-L1, but produced a significant improvement in those lacking the protein. This data brings Tecentriq into close contention with BMS’ blockbuster Opdivo, which is currently the only immunotherapy drug approved without a PD-L1 test and suffered a significant failure in the same indication this week.  

"Tecentriq is the first and only anti PD-L1 cancer immunotherapy to help patients with metastatic NSCLC live significantly longer than when treated with chemotherapy regardless of their PD-L1 expression level or their disease histology," commented Roche CMO Sandra Horning. "Even people whose disease had low or no observed PD-L1 expression still showed a significant benefit from the medicine."

Dan Chen, head of cancer immunotherapy development at Roche, added: "The survival benefit that we're seeing here is unprecedented. This forms the foundation of our cancer immunotherapy development. Tecentriq will be used as a single agent but also in combination in the future."

The drug is up for approval by US regulators by October 19. Analysts expect Tecentriq sales across all cancer indications to hit $4 billion by 2021.

Matt Fellows

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