(Adds analyst comments, updates share prices)
TOKYO, March 18 Shares in Chugai Pharmaceutical
Co (4519.T), the Japanese subsidiary of Swiss drugmaker Roche
Holding AG ROG.VX, fell 5.9 percent after Chugai reported 15
deaths among users of its Actemra arthritis drug.
Japan was the first country to approve Actemra for rheumatoid
arthritis. Roche has seen the drug as a potential blockbuster.
Actemra won approval in Europe in January, but has yet to be
approved in the United States. [ID:nLL414111] [ID:nWNAB9431]
Chugai shares closed down 94 yen at 1,497 yen,
underperforming the benchmark Nikkei average .N225, which
gained 0.3 percent, after it reported the deaths among 4,915
users of the treatment.
Roche shares were down 1.2 percent at 145.30 euros.
"The fact that the causal relationship was not denied means
there is a possibility that Actemra may have had an impact," said
Chugai spokesman Masayuki Yamada.
One analyst, however, said a death rate of 0.3 percent was
not a surprise and would not affect the outlook for the drug's
The data "may seem like negative news at first glance, but we
believe it will not affect significantly the potential of the
drug", Merrill Lynch analyst Ritsuo Watanabe said in a note to
Chugai said in a monthly report on Actemra's side effects
that it could not deny the possibility of a link between the
deaths and the use of Actemra.
It said there had been 221 cases of serious side effects.
Known chemically as tocilizumab, Actemra is an
anti-interleukin-6 receptor antibody and works in a different way
than the existing multibillion-dollar-selling class of biotech
drugs for arthritis that block an inflammatory protein called
tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
Roche's pharmaceuticals chief, William Burns, has projected
peak sales of the drug at $2 billion to $4 billion a year, though
analysts forecast lower sales. [ID:nN06452658]
Roche holds nearly 60 percent of Chugai.
(Reporting by Taiga Uranaka and Nathan Layne; Editing by Chris