* MabThera can be used to treat follicular lymphoma
* Drug gets EU backing as first line maintenance treatment
* Follicular lymphoma is a common type of blood cancer
(Adds details, background)
ZURICH, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Roche Holding AG's ROG.VX cancer drug MabThera can now be used as a first line maintenance treatment for follicular lymphoma, a common form of blood cancer, broadening the drug's use and giving Roche a boost.
The decision was largely expected after the European Medicines Agency in September recommended the blockbuster for the treatment of patients who responded to induction therapy.
The approval of MabThera, known in the United States, Japan and Canada as Rituxan, doubled the likelihood of patients living longer without their disease worsening, the Swiss drugmaker said in a statement on Thursday.
Maintenance treatment reduces the risk of relapse and the use of chemotherapy, Roche said.
Sales of MabThera, which is already marketed to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, last year totalled 6.1 billion Swiss francs ($6.19 billion).
Follicular lymphoma is a common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Around 286,000 people are diagnosed with NHL each year and follicular lymphoma, which is incurable, accounts for around one in four of these cases.
Roche has this year had to battle with a number of setbacks in its pipeline development, causing it to fall out of favour with investors, but this news and recent U.S. backing for Herceptin in combination with chemotherapy in stomach cancer gives the group a little lift. [ID:nN20229840] (Reporting by Katie Reid; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter) ($1=.9859 Swiss Franc)
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