Roche Drug Tandem Extends Life of Some Lung-Cancer Patients

A Roche Holding AG experimental drug called MetMab, used with another medicine, extended the lives of lung-cancer patients whose tumors had high levels of a protein known to trigger the disease and help it spread, a study found.

MetMab, which targets a gene called Met, was given in combination with Tarceva, another Roche medicine, to lung-cancer patients whose disease didn’t improve after other therapy. About half of lung tumors have high levels of Met.

The results show the benefit of tailoring cancer therapy to the individual genetics of patients and their tumors. In this case, adding MetMab to Tarceva tripled the life span of patients whose tumors had high concentrations of the Met protein. In patients with low Met levels, adding MetMab shortened their lives. Roche has developed a test that measures Met levels and plans to sell the test and drug together, said Sandra Horning, Roche’s global head of clinical oncology.

“This is another example of personalized medicine in lung cancer,” Horning said in a telephone interview.

The company, based in Basel, Switzerland, plans to begin a larger trial this year in patients whose tumors have high levels of Met, Horning said.

The study tested the drug in 137 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common form of the disease. Patients with high levels of Met in their tumors who took both MetMab and Tarceva lived for 12.6 months, compared with 3.8 months in those who took Tarceva alone. Patients with low Met survived for a median of 15.3 months on Tarceva alone and just 8.1 months if they took both drugs, according to a summary of the study released today.

Fluid, Swelling

Fluid buildup and swelling in the limbs was the most common side effect among patients getting MetMab, experienced by 23 percent of patients getting both drugs, compared with 7.5 percent of the Tarceva-only patients.

Tarceva had sales of $1.3 billion in 2010, according to Bloomberg data.

“It’s very exciting because you’re talking about a large group of patients -- about 50 percent of them -- who may have a chance to benefit from a therapy like this,” said the study leader, David R. Spigel, director of lung cancer research at Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville.

In 2010, about 223,000 were expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer and 157,000 were expected to die, according to the American Cancer Society.

Today’s findings will be presented in greater detail at a meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology starting June 4 in Chicago.

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