Roche's Tecentriq grabs badly needed lung cancer win to keep Keytruda in its sights

If it can win an FDA green light, Roche's Tecentriq-chemo combo will have to face down Merck's Keytruda-chemo pairing in the first-line lung cancer field. (Roche)

Looks like Merck’s Keytruda could get some company in the lung cancer chemo-combo department.

On Monday, nemesis Roche said its Tecentriq, in combination with carboplatin and Celgene’s Abraxane, had topped solo chemo at helping previously untreated patients live longer and at keeping disease at bay. The company intends to share the data with regulators around the world, chief medical officer Sandra Horning said in a statement.

The results are crucial for Roche, which is chasing down lung-cancer leader Merck. Both drugmakers field PD-1/PD-L1-chemo combos, with Merck’s pairing blockbuster Keytruda and Eli Lilly’s Alimta. Previously, though, Roche had revealed only that a trio of Tecentriq, Avastin and chemo had beaten out an Avastin-chemo duo, leaving questions about Tecentriq’s effectiveness.

Of course, until Roche presents expanded results from the latest study, industry watchers won’t know how its cocktail measures up to Merck’s, which recently showed it could cut patients’ risk of death by a whopping 51%.

RELATED: Roche's latest Tecentriq results shed little light on the lung cancer market race: analyst

“In reality it is still very difficult to interpret how Tecentriq stacks up against competitors (Merck's Keytruda) and detailed data will be critical for this evaluation,” Deutsche Bank analyst Tim Race wrote in a note to clients.

But that won’t stop eager investors from trying to draw comparisons, and Race expects them to look to next weekend’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting for clues. There, the two companies will present data on their rival meds in patients with squamous lung cancer “to get the most directly comparable reference for the drugs’ relative profiles,” he said.

RELATED: Merck rains on Roche's parade with double Keytruda win in squamous lung cancer

Meanwhile, Merck isn’t the only immuno-oncology competitor Roche has to worry about in the lung cancer space. Bristol-Myers Squibb is also vying for a first-line nod for its combination of Opdivo and CTLA4 player Yervoy, and AstraZeneca is trialing a CTLA4 combo of Imfinzi and tremelimumab.