Roche rises on word of COVID trial win, new test and European cancer drug nod

FILE PHOTO: The peak of Mount Pilatus is seen in the background as workers clean the windows of a building of Roche in Rotkreuz May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

ZURICH (Reuters) - Roche ROG.S shares closed higher on Friday after the Swiss drugmaker said a study had shown its drug Actemra helped against COVID-19 and announced the release of a new antibody test as well as a European recommendation for a liver cancer cocktail.

Hospital patients taking Actemra, also called RoActemra, were 44% less likely to need ventilators or die than patients who got a placebo plus normal care, the company said, citing data from its Empacta phase III trial done in several countries including the United States.

The news is a boost for Roche after Actemra, a retooled rheumatoid arthritis medicine that fights inflammation, failed a separate late-stage clinical trial earlier this year in patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19 related pneumonia.

“The EMPACTA trial demonstrated that Actemra/RoActemra can reduce the need for mechanical ventilation in patients with COVID-19 associated pneumonia,” said Levi Garraway, Roche’s chief medical officer and head of global product development.

The shares rose 1.8% on Friday, making Roche the best performing company on Switzerland’s benchmark index.

Empacta is the first global phase III COVID-19 clinical trial using minority patients, Roche said, adding this group, including Hispanic, Black and Native American patients, is often underrepresented in studies and has been hit harder by the pandemic than other groups.

Roche, which already has an COVID-19 antibody test that detects a patient’s immune response to the virus’s outer shell, said its new test targets antibodies that develop in response to the virus’s spike.

The test is released in markets accepting the CE mark, and Roche is also seeking U.S. emergency approval.

The Basel-based company also said a European Medicines Agency panel recommended its Tecentric-Avastin cocktail be approved against hepatocellular carcinoma. The European Commission generally follows the panel’s recommendation within months.

Reporting by John Revill and John Miller; Editing by Thomas Seythal, Christopher Cushing and Philippa Fletcher