Roche bid for Avastin follow-on suffers blow with trial failure

The logo of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche is seen outside their headquarters in Basel, January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/File Photo

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche’s bid to follow its blockbuster cancer drug Avastin with a newer, better drug took a hit when it announced on Thursday that an investigational therapy had failed in a study against metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC).

Roche had been hoping vanucizumab would win approval as a stand-alone follow-up drug for Avastin, once its U.S. patent protections expire come 2019 and biosimilar copies emerge.

But Dan O’Day, head of Roche’s pharmaceuticals division, said the monoclonal antibody did not meet its primary endpoint -- progression-free survival -- when compared head-to-head against Avastin in a phase II study against mCRC.

“We set the bar very high and it did not achieve that bar,” O’Day said, adding Roche would press on with additional trials of vanucizumab.

For instance, it is being combined with Roche’s new immunotherapy Tecentriq in trials against ovarian cancer, among others. “Those will continue,” O’Day said.

The Swiss drugmaker’s three established cancer blockbusters Rituxan, Herceptin and Avastin account for annual sales of nearly 20 billion Swiss francs ($21 billion), but all face biosimilar competition by the end of the decade.

Roche has developed Kadcyla and Gazyva to follow Herceptin and Rituxan, respectively, but failure of vanucizumab leaves Avastin without a similar replacement, so far.

Still, Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson said the set-back was likely not critical as “there were not high expectations on this drug, anyway,” he wrote in a note to investors.

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields