Herceptin data fends off $1.5B threat to Roche sales

Even as Roche ($RHHBY) charges ahead on new breast cancer treatments to follow in Herceptin's footsteps, it's not giving up on the original. Far from it; the drug doesn't go off patent for years yet. No wonder folks were anticipating new Herceptin data at the European Society of Medical Oncology meeting.

And the results were a mixed bag. On the upside, a French study failed to show that 6 months of Herceptin therapy after surgery was as effective as the current one-year treatment standard. In fact, the data leaned toward 12 months' worth of Herceptin, researcher Xavier Pivot of the University de Franche Comte said (as quoted by Reuters). The team is digging deeper into the data to see whether subsets of patients might benefit from 6 months of treatment, he added.

Roche was a bit more explicit about the French data. In a statement, the company pointed out that women treated for 6 months had a 28% greater risk of recurrence than the women treated for a year.

That was an important finding for Roche, because the company stood to lose up to $1.5 billion in sales if data backed shorter-term use. After all, cost-conscious payers are looking for excuses to cut their drug costs--and support for half the treatment time could have been persuasive.

But on the downside, Roche didn't get the Herceptin boost it was hoping for. Its own HERA study showed that continuing Herceptin treatment for two years after surgery wasn't significantly better than one year of treatment. R&D chief Hal Barron said the results "answer an important question and support current medical practice, where Herceptin treatment for one year is recommended and approved for people with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer."

- read the Roche statement
- see the Reuters story

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