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Roche’s Tarceva Stalls Lung Cancer in Late-Stage Study

Roche Holding AG, the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs, said its Tarceva medicine kept a form of advanced lung tumor at bay for almost twice as long as standard treatment in a late-stage clinical trial.

Tarceva stalled non-small-cell lung cancer for 9.7 months in patients with a gene mutation called EGFR, compared with 5.2 months in patients given chemotherapy, Basel, Switzerland-based Roche said today in an e-mailed statement. The medicine was given as an initial therapy to patients. The study findings are being presented at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which begins today in Chicago.

Roche in January halted the trial, called Eurtac, early because Tarceva had already met the primary goal of the study. The drug won U.S. approval in 2004 to treat non-small-cell lung cancer and is also cleared for pancreatic tumors. Roche has asked European regulators to expand use of the medicine to include initial therapy for lung cancer linked to the EGFR gene mutation. Tarceva generated revenue of 1.33 billion Swiss francs ($1.58 million) in 2010.

“This is an important step forward in our goal of providing personalized options for people with advanced lung cancer,” Hal Barron, Roche’s head of global development, said in the statement.

Tarceva works by blocking a protein called epidermal growth factor that helps cancer cells spread. Roche said in November it would develop a companion diagnostic test for Tarceva to identify EGFR mutations.

The Swiss drugmaker splits profit from Tarceva earned in the U.S. with OSI Pharmaceuticals Inc. and pays royalties from sales in the rest of the world. Astellas Pharma Inc., Japan’s second-largest drugmaker, last year bought Melville, New York-based OSI for $4 billion.

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers, striking more than 1.35 million people worldwide each year. It’s the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., killing an estimated 157,300 a year, according to the American Cancer Society.

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