Roche culls 2 COVID-19 drug hopefuls amid Q1 clear-out

Roche has cut a series of experimental lung drugs from its pipeline, including two midstage COVID-19 assets.

The first drug, an Amgen-licensed anti-ST2 antibody known as astegolimab (aka RG6149), works by stopping the binding of IL-33 to ST2. This has already flopped in asthma, like so many other IL-33s, but the Swiss giant thought it could help COVID patients with pneumonia.

The trial was started last year and was slated to end in January; presumably, the results were not good, as Roche said in its first-quarter results presentation (PDF) today that it has been “removed from phase 2.”

The same fate has befallen a similar approach from its other COVID asset, efmarodocokin alfa (aka RG7880), which hits IL-22 and was also “removed from phase 2.” Both were hoping to stop disease progression in patients with severe pneumonia from COVID, but, like so many pharmas, Roche appears to have struggled to take the promise into clinical reality.

It did, however, have better news on a different antiviral approach, with a phase 3 test of its oral COVID-19 antiviral AT-527, partnered with Atea, slated to start in the second quarter.

It also cut two phase 1 asthma prospects: RG6151 and RG6244. The former is an inhaled JAK 1 inhibitor, a class beset by safety issues and commercial struggles.

Roche reported a modest group sales increase of 3% at constant exchange rates for the first quarter, with biosimilars taking a major bite out of its revenue; its diagnostics division, aided by its COVID tests, helped offset some of the damage.