Roche eyes $1B-plus Tecentriq nod with small-cell lung cancer survival win

Roche is looking to snag a $1 billion piece of the lung cancer market for its own, and it now has survival data to back up its bid.

On Tuesday, the Swiss drugmaker said that PD-L1 drug Tecentriq, in tandem with chemo, had produced a modest yet significant survival improvement in previously untreated patients with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer. Tecentriq extended patients’ lives by an average of 12.3 months, compared with 10.3 months for solo chemo.

Extensive-stage lung cancer has been a tough nut to crack, and Tecentriq is the first in its class of PD-1/PD-L1 drugs to do it. Its two-month benefit represents “the first clinically meaningful advance in the disease in over 20 years,” Roche Chief Medical Officer Sandra Horning said in a statement.

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Now, Roche will work with regulators around the world “to bring this Tecentriq regimen to people living with this particularly difficult-to-treat form of lung cancer as soon as possible”—and to grab a market lead over its rivals, which have so far focused more on the significantly larger non-small-cell lung cancer market. SCLC accounts for just 15% of all lung cancer cases, according to Roche, and 70% of SCLC diagnoses are extensive-stage.

Still, though, some industry watchers predict SCLC could bring in blockbuster sales for the Basel-based pharma. Baader Helvea analysts, for one, have predicted an indication could generate $1.5 billion.

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And Roche will need that niche revenue if it wants to keep pace with its immuno-oncology nemeses. It’s currently looking to take on leader Merck in the previously untreated NSCLC market. However, at an interim check-in on a key phase 3 study, its Tecentriq-chemo combo—despite posting a 4.5-month numerical improvement in overall survival—hadn’t yet hit the statistical significance mark, the company said Monday.

“The competitor readouts have continued to solidify Merck’s leadership in 1L lung,” Evercore analyst Umer Raffat wrote in July.