Roche, Novartis Showcase Game-Changing Breast Cancer Drug Data

Roche and Novartis (NYS: NVS) put out new data yesterday on two treatments that promise to fundamentally reshape the way the majority of breast cancer patients are treated. Roche clearly impressed specialists and analysts with the news that pertuzumab combined with Herceptin and chemotherapy checked tumor development for a median of slightly more than six months -- from 8.5 months to 12.4 months. And Novartis's Afinitor demonstrated a four-month delay in disease progression among metastatic patients.

"These are two new therapies, targeted therapies, that will change the standard of care for women with metastatic disease," Jose Baselga, chief of oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a lead author for both studies, tells Bloomberg. "They are elegant, they are hypothesis-driven and they are working through well-known mechanisms."

Afinitor is already approved for other cancers, following Novartis's game plan for mapping a path to a steadily growing marketplace. But it was the experimental pertuzumab that had gripped the attention of the field in the lead-up to the big San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The treatment offers a second pathway to managing HER2-positive breast cancer, which is present in about one in four cases. By offering a much-improved combination therapy for breast cancer, Roche puts itself on the road to an approval that could gain an additional $2 billion a year in revenue while guarding itself against any new biosimilars of Herceptin.

"These are among the most significant findings in drugs for metastatic cancer in the past five years," Dana-Farber's Eric Winer tells TheWall Street Journal. But Roche and Novartis still have a ways to go before they complete their case on breast cancer. The gold standard for cancer data is an overall survival rate, and investigators are still piecing that picture together. Roche has already filed for an approval of pertruzumab in Europe and is expected to file soon in the U.S.

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