* Maintenance therapy seen as lucrative addition
* Rituxan received similar European approval in October
* Showed delays worsening of disease in trials
NEW YORK, Jan 28 U.S. health regulators have
approved cancer drug Rituxan as a maintenance therapy for
patients with advanced follicular lymphoma, adding a
potentially lucrative new use for the multibillion-dollar
medicine for Roche Holding AG ROG.VX and Biogen Idec Inc
Rituxan, which is widely used to treat non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as for
treating rheumatoid arthritis, is now approved by the Food and
Drug Administration to prevent or delay relapses of follicular
lymphoma in patients who responded to initial treatment with
Rituxan plus chemotherapy.
The drug, which is made by Roche's Genentech unit, received
a similar maintenance therapy approval in Europe in October.
In clinical trials, Rituxan given every two months for two
years to patients who responded to initial treatment nearly
doubled the likelihood of them living without the disease
Several companies have been exploring the use of cancer
drugs as maintenance therapy, meaning it would be given to help
prevent relapses rather than not until cancer returns or
progresses, potentially adding many months or years of use for
the expensive medicines.
"Maintenance use of Rituxan offers people with this
incurable disease the opportunity to live longer without their
disease getting worse, a primary goal of treatment," Hal
Barron, Roche's chief medical officer said in a statement.
Follicular lymphoma is considered an incurable blood cancer
that commonly has periods of relapse and remission over a
number of years.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; editing by Andre Grenon)