Roche Holding upbeat on 19 late-stage trials


SWISS DRUGMAKER Roche Holding expects results from 19 late-stage clinical trials over the next 18 months, providing a stream of products to offset a potential near-term threat to breast cancer drug Herceptin, its third biggest seller.

The world’s biggest maker of cancer medicines cited antibody drugs carrying chemotherapy and combination treatments among its most promising approaches in a presentation to investors in London yesterday.

With its large diagnostics division, Roche has pioneered personalised medicine, or tailoring treatment to the genetic profile of patients, and chief executive Severin Schwan said the group would remain market leader in the field.

“More than 60 per cent of our pharmaceutical pipeline projects are coupled with the development of companion diagnostics in order to make treatments more effective,” he said.

Twelve of its 19 late-stage trials involve new drugs. Pipeline progress and Roche’s pledge to control research spending, 8.3 billion Swiss francs (€6.9 billion) in 2011, may reassure investors, ahead of uncertain times for Herceptin.

Helvea analyst Odile Rundquist said the commitment not to increase RD spend, despite a large number of late-stage projects, was important and showed Roche was adapting to tougher times for drug sales.

The group is targeting efficiency gains of 15 per cent in drug development costs by 2015, and finance chief Alan Hippe said it aimed to gradually bring down net debt leverage to under 15 per cent from 25 per cent in 2011.

Roche is testing a range of new drugs, including a novel chemotherapy-carrying “armed” antibody called T-DM1 – the first of nine so-called antibody-drug conjugates (ADC) in a development that it views a major advance in fighting cancer.

Another ADC called RG7593 had produced “very promising” early results in blood cancer, it said. Shares in Roche were trading up 1.1 per cent by 1.50pm in line with the European healthcare index.

T-DM1 will boost its breast cancer business, along with recently launched Perjeta, but investors are cautious about potential lost sales for Herceptin in the near term. – (Reuters)