Tailored breast cancer drugs in focus at cancer meet
ZURICH (Reuters) - Doctors and investors at a cancer conference starting on Friday will be keen to find out more on the effectiveness of two promising new breast cancer drugs from Swiss drugmakers Roche and Novartis.
Roche's T-DM1 and Novartis's Afinitor have been designed to treat two specific types of breast cancer and are among the latest examples of the tailored therapies increasingly being used in oncology.
A mid-stage trial has already shown recently that T-DM1, which combines Roche's Herceptin with a potent cell-killing payload delivered directly to cancer cells, helped patients live longer without their disease getting worse compared with those taking Herceptin and conventional chemotherapy.
It also showed that T-DM1 had fewer side effects. Investors will eye the more detailed data sets to see the size of the benefit and whether the reduced side effects increased patients' likelihood of sticking with the treatment.
Roche and Novartis, the top two global players in oncology, are due to present more detailed data on their drugs at the EMCC European cancer congress, which runs from September 23-27 in Stockholm.
"We have further data at the next cancer conference, and we believe they are quite astounding," Stefan Frings, Global Head of Medical Affairs Oncology at Roche, told Reuters at the group's headquarters in Basel.
Roche hopes the T-DM1 results will help it protect its multibillion-dollar Herceptin franchise even as Herceptin loses exclusivity in the coming years.
T-DM1, which Roche is developing with Immunogen, is a new kind of "armed antibody."
The fact that the drug delivers its toxic payload directly into cells is thought to be key to why it causes fewer cases of common chemotherapy side effects such as hair loss and low white blood cell counts.
"For T-DM1 we want to know more about the extent of those benefits as that ultimately has an impact on the pricing issue, which is important for Roche as they seek to combine more products to treat breast cancer," Helvea analyst Karl-Heinz Koch said.
Novartis has also sounded an upbeat note about the prospects for Afinitor, also known as everolimus, which is already approved for other types of cancer, such as kidney and a rare type of pancreatic cancer.
CEO Joe Jimenez told Reuters in a recent interview it could generate sales of at least $1 billion if it makes it to the market for patients with hormone-sensitive breast cancer. It is planning to file for regulatory approval by the end of 2012.
The interim analysis of a late-stage trial showed Afinitor taken with Pfizer's oestrogen-blocker Aromasin, also known as exemestane, extended the time patients lived without their tumor growing.
More details from the BOLERO-2 study will be presented in Stockholm.
Novartis is seeking to use Afinitor, which works by targeting the protein mTOR in cancer cells, to treat women with hormonal receptor-positive breast cancer who have not responded to initial hormonal therapy.
"After around 25 years of hormonal therapy for this type of patient population, this study represents a really innovative therapy that is a step forward for this group of patients with breast cancer," Alessandro Riva, Global Head of Oncology Development and Medical Affairs at Novartis, told Reuters.
Worldwide, there are approximately 220,000 newly diagnosed cases of ER+HER2- advanced breast cancer each year that could benefit from Afinitor, Riva said, adding the drug was well tolerated and can be taken over a prolonged period.
"The breast cancer story is a very nice journey for everolimus," Riva said. "The journey is not finished because we have a large program now ongoing in the HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer patients."
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