Long-awaited Avastin data spells failure

The long-awaited Avastin-in-colon-cancer data has arrived--and it's not good news. The Genentech drug failed to stave off a recurrence of the disease, dashing the company's hopes of a new indication for the blockbuster cancer med. Not to mention the billion-dollar sales bump a successful trial would have yielded.

Obviously, it's a major blow to Genentech, and thus to Roche, which just acquired the 44 percent of the company it didn't already own. Avastin is Roche's bestselling drug, and the company had pinned big hopes to it. Right now, Avastin is used mostly to treat advanced cancers, rather than early-stage disease. This latest trial compared Avastin plus chemo with chemo alone, in patients who'd just had tumors removed. Had the drug hit its goal in the study, then Avastin might have been broadly adopted for treating less-advanced cancer cases, perhaps even doubling its worldwide sales of $4.4 billion.

Never mind, Roche's pharma chief Bill Burns told Reuters. Avastin can still grow to $6.8 billion to $7.7 billion by 2011 just by treating metastasized cancers. "It was always the toss of a coin," Burns said during a press conference call, reminding reporters that taking on the so-called C-08 study was risky. And, he said, the failure doesn't mean that Roche overpaid for Genentech. "We always factored in the entire transaction," he said. "It's a much broader, strategic deal than one study."

Analysts were not so sanguine; several called the trial failure a major setback. But there's still a glimmer of hope: Roche is running another trial of Avastin in early-stage colon cancer, with results due in 2010. And the company's chief medical officer says he still believes Avastin can be effective early on in the disease process. So stay tuned.

- see Roche's release
- read the New York Times story
- see the article from Reuters