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Roche Says GA101 Beat Rituxan in Test as Replacement Drug

Roche Holding AG’s experimental leukemia drug GA101 beat its top-seller Rituxan in a trial that may help position the new product as the older treatment’s heir.

Combined with chemotherapy, GA101 was better than Rituxan at helping patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and who hadn’t previously been treated, live longer without the cancer getting worse, Basel, Switzerland-based Roche said in a statement today. U.S. regulators granted GA101 priority review for CLL patients this month, which means a decision on whether the drug can be sold in that market is due by the end of 2013.

Details on how much better GA101 performed won’t be publicly available until December, when the study’s results will be submitted to the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting. GA101 is a pillar of Roche’s strategy for bolstering its blood cancer business as Rituxan is expected to face competition from cheaper biosimilar copies.

“These very strong results in CLL bode well for a potential efficacy in other types of blood cancer,” Odile Rundquist, a Geneva-based analyst at Helvea AG, wrote in a report today. Based on the results so far, Rundquist estimated GA101’s annual sales will reach 1.15 billion Swiss francs ($1.23 billion).

Roche rose as much as 1.7 percent to 235.10 francs and was trading up 1.3 percent at 11:34 a.m. in Zurich, heading toward the stock’s first gain since July 12. The shares have risen 27 percent this year, valuing Roche at 202 billion francs.

The drugmaker is also comparing GA101 with Rituxan in aggressive and indolent lymphoma patients, Hal Barron, Roche’s chief medical officer, said in the statement.

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