* Roche says a committee recommended it halt studies of drug
* MetMab was seen as potential blockbuster by analysts
* Roche evaluating what study means for drug's development
* Analysts await breast cancer studies for Kadcyla, Perjeta
* Roche shares down 2.1 pct vs 1.5 pct sector drop
By Katharina Bart
ZURICH, March 3 Roche Holding AG has
halted a study of an experimental lung cancer drug because it
failed to help patients with the disease, a blow for the drug
which had been seen as a potential big seller as treatment
options for the disease are limited.
Roche, the world's largest maker of cancer drugs, said an
independent data monitoring committee had recommended the
current study of the drug should be stopped because it wasn't
shown to work in patients with non-small cell lung cancer when
combined with lung cancer pill Tarceva in late-stage studies.
It said it was evaluating what the results of the study mean
for the clinical programme of the drug, called onartuzumab or
MetMab, and in the meantime was looking at options for lung
It did not say who was on the data monitoring committee, but
such groups are typically made up of doctors and carry out their
work in conjunction with hospitals and patients.
"We remain committed to helping patients with lung cancer
and are studying several investigational medicines in this
disease," Roche Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product
Development �Sandra Horning said in a statement on Monday.
While the MetMab data is a setback, analysts at private bank
J. Safra Sarasin said any fall in Roche stock would be limited
because the drug wasn't among those seen as a major catalyst for
the company this year.
The setback comes after Roche's schizophrenia drug
bitopertin also suffered a blow. Data on its breast cancer drugs
Kadycla and Perjeta in combination are expected at a June
medical conference devoted to cancer treatments.
Some analysts had touted injectable MetMab, pending
successful completion of trials, as a potential blockbuster
because of the limited treatment options for lung cancers.
Roche stock, which had hit an all-time intraday high of
274.8 francs on Friday, traded 2.1 percent lower at 265.9 francs
by 0832 GMT, lagging a 1.5 percent fall in the European
Investors are turning their attention to data on Kadcyla and
Perjeta in combination in first-line breast cancer, as well as
interim data on a drug called GA101 in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Six weeks ago, Roche said bitopertin, an experimental drug
designed to treat schizophrenia, failed to meet its main goal in
two late-stage studies.
Roche has pushed ahead with plans to develop "follow-on"
medicines which it hopes will replace or breathe new life into
older treatments. It is banking on a strong ramp-up of these
products to defend its market share once copycat versions of
biotech drugs known as biosimilars arrive.
Four weeks ago, Roche kept investors guessing on how it
would spend its copious cash pile after a lower-than-expected
dividend payout, seen by some analysts as a sign the Swiss
pharmaceuticals group might be keeping its cash for deals.