With latest data, has Roche's Tecentriq found a blockbuster lung cancer niche?

So far, Roche’s Tecentriq hasn’t been able to find a piece of the lung cancer market to call its own. But that may change after its latest trial win.

On Sunday, the Swiss drugmaker said that in a phase 3 study, the immuno-oncology entrant, paired with chemo, helped previously untreated, extensive-stage small cell lung cancer patients live significantly longer than solo chemo did. The combo also helped stave off cancer progression to meet the study’s other primary endpoint, Roche said.

Tecentriq is the first drug in its class of PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors to post positive survival data in the population. So far, drug companies—and their investors—have been more focused on front-line non-small cell lung cancer, which represents a much bigger opportunity: SCLC accounts for just 15% of all lung cancer cases, according to Roche, and 70% of SCLC diagnoses are extensive-stage.

Still, analysts predict the potential first-to-market opportunity for Tecentriq could be a big one. Baader Helvea’s predict an indication could rack up $1.5 billion in sales, Reuters said.

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Roche has been playing catch-up to Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo and Merck’s Keytruda in the first-line lung cancer market from the get-go, and it’s struggled to carve out a niche for Tecentriq. In March, Tecentriq became the first product in its class to produce positive top-line data in squamous NSCLC, but just two months later, Merck rolled out its own top-line data showing that Keytruda had both delayed lung cancer progression and improved overall survival. And at this month’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, industry watchers were quick to hand Merck the victory.

RELATED: ASCO: Merck shows Roche up with big survival numbers in squamous lung cancer

Meanwhile, Roche is trialing its Tecentriq-chemo duo in nonsquamous NSCLC, too, but Merck recently rolled out data to extend its lead and raise the bar for challenges. In April, it showed Keytruda-plus-chemo could cut patients’ risk of death by more than half.