September 22, 2009 / 8:43 AM / 9 years ago

Roche says Avastin melanoma study data "outdated"

* Abstract on drug in skin cancer no longer correct

* Roche declines to give further details before Wednesday

* Statement raises question over Avastin’s effectiveness

BERLIN, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Roche ROG.VX said on Tuesday that data in a scientific abstract showing its cancer drug Avastin helped people with melanoma live longer was now “outdated”, raising doubts about its effectiveness.

A late-breaking abstract from the ECCO-ESMO cancer congress in Berlin released on Monday had suggested the drug was the first ever to show a significant improvement in overall survival in the notoriously difficult to treat cancer of the skin. [ID:nLL728528]

But a last-minute analysis of the clinical data means the picture has now changed.

A Roche spokesman declined to give any further details, saying that the full results of the Phase II study would be presented at the meeting on Wednesday.

While melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of skin cancers, it is responsible for most skin cancer deaths. The disease is characterised by the uncontrolled proliferation of pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes.

Over-exposure to sunlight is to blame for at least two-thirds of cases as DNA in sunburnt skin cells becomes damaged, leading to the genetic mutations.

Avastin is already a blockbuster and a key driver for Roche, with global sales of $5 billion in 2008 as a treatment for colon, lung and breast cancers.

Analysts have been hoping that a positive result in melanoma would open a further market, potentially worth another $500 million or more in annual sales. ($1=1.036 Swiss Franc) (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Hans Peters)

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