Tarceva's new European OK points up Roche's targeted goals

Roche's Tarceva has nabbed European approval as a first-line treatment for advanced lung cancer. It's an OK limited to non-small cell lung cancer that tests positive for a mutation in the EGFR gene. That amounts to 10% to 30% of NSCLC patients, which narrows the market quite a bit. But with more than 250,000 new cases in Europe per year, it's still a sizable patient pool.

Tarceva has been approved in Europe for generalized use against NSCLC, but as a second-line treatment after chemo fails, or as a maintenance treatment in patients who've responded well to chemo. The new OK makes Tarceva into a targeted lung cancer drug for that market. It's not alone there; AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Iressa is approved for EGFR-positive NSCLC. And Merck KGaA has reapplied for European approval of its EGFR-targeting Erbitux drug.

But the new approval, coming on the heels of the recent nod for targeted melanoma treatment Zelboraf, underscores Roche's focus on drugs aimed at subsets of patients identified by diagnostic tests. One reason, CEO Severin Schwan (photo) tells Reuters, is that targeted therapies can command a premium, even in the midst of government pricing pressures.

No wonder Schwan promised the news service that his company would continue its push into the field. Schwan said he expects half of Roche's portfolio to be targeted drugs within a decade. And within 20 years, these meds will make up an even larger chunk of the Swiss drugmaker's business. Furthermore, he fully expects some of them to be blockbusters.

- read the Roche release
- get more from Reuters