Photographer: Freya Ingrid Morales/Bloomberg

Roche Blood Cancer Medicine Fails to Show Major Improvement

  • Success would have helped offset competition from biosimilars
  • Roche says it will continue to analyze Goya trial data

Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG said its blood cancer medicine Gazyva failed to show a significant improvement over its best-seller Rituxan, a setback in efforts to defend the aging blockbuster against copycats.

In an advanced study called Goya, Gazyva didn’t significantly reduce the risk of disease worsening or death in people with previously untreated diffuse large B-cell lymphoma compared with Rituxan, Roche said in a statement Monday. A study earlier this year showed the drug performed better than Rituxan in people with follicular lymphoma.

While most analysts didn’t expect the trial to succeed, “this is still a disappointment for Roche,” Alistair Campbell and colleagues at Berenberg Bank in London wrote in a note. “A success in Goya would have completed the last piece of the puzzle in terms of protecting Rituxan from biosimilars in oncology.”

Roche, the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs, is seeking new treatments to offset the looming threat of biosimilars, competing versions of biologic drugs that could eat into its sales. Revenue from top-seller Rituxan is expected to rise to about $7.37 billion in 2016 before declining in the following years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The result announced Monday is already reflected in the sales forecast for Gazyva, according to a Citigroup Inc. note. The drug’s sales are projected to almost double to $256 million in 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Roche shares fell as much as 2.2 percent to 250.10 Swiss francs in Zurich trading.

“We will continue to analyze the Goya data to better understand the results, and to study other investigational treatments in this disease with the goal of further helping these patients,” Sandra Horning, Roche chief medical officer and head of global product development, said in the statement.

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