Roche’s Tecentriq Notches Third Cancer Cocktail Trial Win

Study is ongoing to determine overall survival in patients with certain lung cancer

Roche’s immunotherapy atezolizumab (Tecentriq) has racked up a third trial win in combination with other cancer drugs, a boost for the Swiss drug-maker as it seeks to muscle in on space dominated by Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, according to a Reuters report.

A late-stage study, called IMpower131, demonstrated atezolizumab mixed with chemotherapies carboplatin and paclitaxel cut the risk of disease worsening or death compared with chemotherapy alone in first-line treatment of patients with advanced squamous non–small-cell lung cancer.

Roche is aiming to be the first to win regulators’ blessing for an immunotherapy combination against this form of lung cancer, which accounts for 25% to 30% of lung cancer cases.

The trial will continue, as Roche awaits overall survival data it hopes will show its combination keeps people alive longer than standard chemotherapy. Overall survival is the gold standard when assessing a drug’s effectiveness.

Roche has numerous trials of atezolizumab with other drugs as the Basel-based company seeks to make up ground against Merck’s pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s nivolumab (Opdivo), drugs with combined sales more than 10-fold those of atezolizumab’s 487 million Swiss francs ($512.42 million) in 2017.

This latest data from the IMpower131 trial marks the third time since December that Roche has demonstrated a benefit for patients getting an atezolizumab cocktail, including against other forms of lung cancer and kidney cancer.

“Squamous non–small-cell lung cancer is difficult to treat, and there have been limited new treatment options over the last few decades,” Sandra Horning, Roche’s Chief Medical Officer, said in a press release. “We look forward to seeing more mature overall survival data.”

“We currently model $1.1 billion of peak sales for Tecentriq in this setting and have previously highlighted that a positive result from the trial could see 1% to 3% upside to earnings per share,” said Ian Hilliker, a Jefferies analyst, to Reuters.

Even so, being first is no guarantee of success. Atezolizumab beat others in bladder cancer, but Roche’s rivals soon caught up.

“One year later, all the competitors—Merck, Bristol, and AstraZeneca—got the nod for bladder cancer as well, and the revenue growth of Tecentriq began to suffer,” Zuercher Kantonalbank analyst Michael Nawrath told Reuters.

Because immunotherapies like atezolizumab, pembrolizumab, and nivolumab work in just a fraction of patients, all the companies are staking hopes on combinations with other drugs to boost their success.

The cocktails are proving worthwhile. Last month, Bristol-Myers said a key lung cancer combination trial met its main goal while Merck data for pembrolizumab in January sent its shares soaring.

Source: Reuters; March 20, 2018.