Roche abstract paints promising picture of a potential mega-blockbuster

A scientific abstract prepared for next week's meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Paris tipped off analysts over the weekend to some positive mid-stage data on dalcetrapib, Roche's promising "good" cholesterol drug. News of the promising data on a drug tapped as one of the pharma giant's top pipeline prospects helped push up the value of Roche's shares.

Reuters reports that the data from a 130-patient study indicates that the researchers did not see signs of plaque-related inflammation on artery walls, plaque buildup in patients taking the drug was less than that seen in the placebo arm, and the drug group indicated that dalcetrapib was well tolerated. Only two cardiovascular related events were reported in the drug arm compared to 13 in the placebo group.

Roche has a considerable distance to travel in its quest to bring dalcetrapib to market, of course. Late stage data from a much larger study won't be available until the end of next year, though interim numbers are expected in the early part of the year. And Pfizer's expensive pratfall with torcetrapib along with the considerable disagreement over the health effects that can be expected from raising HDL levels has raised doubts and questions.

There's also quite a varying set of numbers on potential sales. Some analysts, including Vontobel's Andrew Weiss, believe a clinical hit in this arena would produce a blockbuster capable of earning $5 billion a year. UBS analyst Gbola Amusa projected peak sales of $6.8 billion. Others have projected a much smaller $203 million in annual revenue by 2015, according to Thomson Reuters Pharma, provided Roche can go on to beat the odds and gain an approval. Merck's candidate for a "good" cholesterol drug is dubbed anacetrapib.

"There's excitement," cardiologist Chris Cannon told Bloomberg last week. "We've been thinking about this for decades. On the other hand, there's renewed caution and realization that it's hard to make things work."

- here's the story from Reuters