Merck KGaA's Drug Tops Roche's Avastin for Colon Cancer

Merck KGaA (MRK) said its cancer drug Erbitux extended the lives of patients with a form of advanced colon cancer more than seven months longer than those taking Roche Holding AG (ROG)’s Avastin.

In a trial among 342 patients with advanced colon cancer lacking certain genetic mutations, those receiving Erbitux had a median survival of 33.1 months, compared with 25.6 months for those treated with Avastin, according to data to be presented today at a cancer conference in Amsterdam. Both drugs were combined with chemotherapy.

The findings suggest a role for Erbitux in a sub-group of patients with so-called RAS wild-type tumors, after Merck said in June that the study missed its main goal of shrinking tumors more than Avastin. Merck, based in Darmstadt, Germany, plans to examine the results of two other trials for evidence of the same trend, with a view to seeking regulatory approval in Europe for the drug.

“Of course we are highly interested to get the right treatment to the right patients,” Oliver Kisker, head of clinical development at Merck’s Serono unit, said in a telephone interview. “Seven-point-five months is very impressive, very interesting.”

Erbitux generated sales for Merck of 887 million euros ($1.2 billion). The German company sells the medicine outside North America. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY), based in New York, and Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY) are the partners for the drug in the U.S.

Germany’s Merck isn’t related to U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co. based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey.

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