Yervoy may face Roche rival sooner than expected

Roche's new melanoma treatment, dubbed Zelboraf, may get an early entry into the market. Sources tell Reuters the experimental drug could be approved as early as next week, months ahead of schedule. Apparently, some recently released data, which showed Zelboraf significantly cut the risk of death when compared with chemotherapy, has inspired the FDA to move more quickly on the application.

That would mean earlier-than-expected competition for Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy, the breakthrough melanoma drug approved in March. Yervoy has been a boon for BMS, coming out of the gate with unexpectedly strong sales. Its sticker price of $120,000 hasn't appeared to deter uptake one bit, at least not yet.

The two meds aren't exactly head-to-head rivals: Roche's drug targets a particular gene mutation that affects about half of all melanoma patients, so its potential market is somewhat smaller than Yervoy's, which works by stimulating patients' immune systems. In fact, they could become a melanoma-fighting cocktail if in-process trials prove the combination successful. Analysts have predicted that Zelboraf sales will peak at around $732 million, while Yervoy sales are expected to reach more than $1.4 billion.

- read the Reuters story