ECTRIMS: Roche's Ocrevus, given early, cuts wheelchair risk by 42%

Roche is steamrolling with Ocrevus, which has quickly become the top-prescribed drug for new multiple sclerosis patients. And to maintain that lead, its touting long-term data that show the earlier it’s given, the better patients do.

Patients with the primary progressive form of the disease who had taken Ocrevus for 6.5 years saw their risk of needing a wheelchair cut by 42%, according to a post hoc analysis presented at the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) annual meeting.

“Data we have here show that the earlier you treat, the lower your disease progression is. Starting Ocrevus at the beginning, you delay your entry into a wheelchair,” Hideki Garren, global head of MS at Roche’s Genentech unit, said.

“It really shows that with continued and early intervention, this can have a benefit long-term for the patient,” he added.

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Safety data also looked consistent with what Roche saw in Ocrevus’ pivotal trials. “The benefit-risk remains pretty positive for these patients,” Garren noted, pointing out that 120,000 patients have received the drug commercially.

The data will only fuel what’s so far been an impressive run for the Roche drug. After winning its FDA approval in March 2017, Ocrevus—as Wall Street anticipated—took the market by storm. In the first half of this year, sales jumped 63% from the year-ago period to CHF 1.7 billion ($1.72 billion), led by the U.S. market. And the drug is now the No. 1 product prescribed for the treatment of new patients, as well as the No. 1 for patient switches.

One factor, aside from safety and efficacy, that’s helped the therapy take off? Convenience. Patients receive Ocrevus intravenously every six months, meaning they only have to see their doctors twice a year. “In between, patients have an opportunity to really forget about their disease,” Garren said.

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Roche, for its part, appreciates the contributions, especially as copycats bite into its older blockbusters. In July, Amgen and Allergan launched the first U.S. biosimilars to cancer heavyweights Herceptin and Avastin, imperiling a combined $5.9 billion in 2018 sales.