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Shares in Roche rose almost 7 per cent on Monday after the Swiss pharmaceuticals group was buoyed by strong results from two drug trials including one that showed potential as a first-line cancer treatment.
The treatments could help it weather intensifying competition from copycat drugs and the loss of patent protection on several blockbuster medicines as well as offering potential billion-dollar revenues.
Particularly significant were positive results from a study into a treatment for an advanced form of lung cancer that could allow it to compete with rivals such as Merck and AstraZeneca in offering the first treatment to be given to sufferers after diagnosis.
Umer Raffat, at Evercore ISI, said: “Roche is now a real competitor in first-line lung cancer.”
Roche has been under pressure from patent expiries on cancer drugs Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin, which account for more than $20bn in annual sales. All will lose exclusivity over the next three years. It is also facing a growing threat from biosimilars, as regulators on both sides of the Atlantic approve copies of some of its bestselling biologic drugs, including its breast cancer medicine, Herceptin.
The lung cancer trial results, released on Monday, showed that atezolizumab, marketed under the name Tecentriq, combined with Avastin plus chemotherapy, reduced the risk of cancer spreading compared to chemotherapy alone.
Roche said it had also seen “encouraging” signs of improvement in overall survival rates, although further data on this measure will not be complete until the first half of next year.
Sandra Horning, Roche’s chief medical officer and head of global product development, said the company was “extremely encouraged by these results and will submit these data to health authorities globally with the goal of bringing a potential new standard of care for the initial treatment of lung cancer”.
Tecentriq belongs to a class of drug called checkpoint inhibitors that mobilise the body’s own immune system against the disease.
Tim Anderson, an analyst at Bernstein, said: “Roche’s good fortune means there is less to go around for other companies.” He added that Merck, whose shares fell more than 2 per cent on Monday, had “accelerated approval in the US with chemo-combo already, but now face another entrant with a differentiated offering”.
He said, however, that “consensus still won’t likely view [Roche] as a dominant threat in [immunotherapy] because of its late entrant status, despite the company’s legacy as an oncology powerhouse”.
Separately, a phase III study into Roche’s Hemlibra haemophilia treatment met its primary and secondary targets, and showed none of the serious side-effects that had accompanied an earlier study.
Dr Horning said the company would be “working with health authorities to make this treatment available for all people with haemophilia A as soon as possible”.
Shares in Shire closed down almost 3 per cent in London. Haemophilia treatments provide about a quarter of the UK-listed group’s revenue. AstraZeneca closed flat.
Roche closed up 6 per cent at SFr243.60