Roche says Avastin ovary cancer data "substantial"

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche said it would report strong results with its top-selling cancer drug Avastin in ovarian cancer and reiterated the new use could add another 1 billion Swiss francs ($865 million) to sales.

“In ovarian cancer, we are presenting substantial results,” Dr. Mondher Mahjoubi, head of global product strategy oncology and director of medical affairs at Roche, said on a conference call on Friday.

Roche will present detailed data on Avastin in the treatment of ovarian cancer at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in June.

The Swiss company said in February that a late-stage trial showed it helped women with advanced ovarian cancer live longer without their disease getting worse.

But investors are waiting keenly for the detailed data to work out just how useful the treatment really is.

Avastin, which starves tumors of blood supply, is already a key weapon in the fight against colon, lung, breast and other cancers, but it has stumbled at key hurdles this year, failing in late-stage stomach and prostate cancer studies.

The world’s largest maker of cancer drugs is looking to expand the reach of Avastin, which had sales of 6.2 billion francs in 2009 and could become the world’s top selling drug by 2014 with sales of some $9 billion a year.

“This (data) will be a substantial contribution to ASCO and this is reflected by the fact that it will be presented at the plenary session,” Pascal Soriot, COO of Roche’s Pharmaceuticals division, said on the conference call.

Around 230,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year across the world and nearly 70 percent of women with advanced disease die within five years, Roche said.

At 1000 GMT (6 a.m. ET), Roche stock was trading 1.6 percent lower, while the European pharmaceuticals sector was down 2.1 percent.

“Importantly, we see no negative competing data flow coming into the ASCO congress this year, allowing investors to focus solely on Roche’s own opportunities rather than potential threats to its oncology portfolio,” analysts at Jefferies said in a note.

Roche further underscored the promise of its pipeline in oncology with data that showed continued use of Rituxan, or MabThera, cut by 50 percent the risk that follicular lymphoma patients would have their cancer return.

Deutsche Bank analysts said investors could also take comfort from a scientific abstract outlining results of a pooled analysis of survival data for Avastin in first-line metastatic breast cancer.

Although this did not show an overall survival benefit, there was an increase in progression free survival and, importantly, Avastin showed no harm in this enlarged sample.

Deutsche said this could provide relief to sentiment for investors worried that Avastin’s breast cancer indication might be rescinded by U.S. regulators.

($1=1.156 Swiss Franc)

Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter