Roche bets on PhIII contender to succeed its bestselling cancer drug

Roche faces a big moment for one of the most important drugs in its cancer pipeline. Before the massive ASCO meeting kicks off on May 31, the Swiss drug giant ($RHHBY) plans to unveil data from a late-stage study of its next-gen antibody GA101, which is heir to the throne occupied by the company and partner Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) Rituxan.

Reuters wrote a curtain raiser on the important GA101 news from Roche, which is expected to report Phase III data on the drug in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia on Thursday. The drug provides Roche with a potential encore to the blockbuster Rituxan, which loses patent exclusivity in Europe later this year and faces competition from biosimilars at various stages of development from Novartis' ($NVS) Sandoz, Amgen ($AMGN) and others. The copycats are expected to grab market share after they are approved.

Will GA101 prove to be a deserving heir or a royal dunce? "The data will speak for themselves," Niko Andre, Roche's head of medical affairs for oncology, told Reuters.

As the article points out, the CLL market is smaller than the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma market for Rituxan. Yet positive results in the late-stage study of CLL patients could auger well for the potential of GA101 in NHL. And as the company showed with its toxin-armed version of Herceptin called Kadcyla, Roche needs to provide evidence of how the next-gen CD20-targeting antibody has advantages over Rituxan. 

Roche says that GA101, which is also known as RG7159 and obinutuzumab, is the lead anti-CD20 drug from its glycoengineering platform. The drug could last longer than Rituxan while providing potent attacks on cancer cells. We'll see.

- here's the release
- and Reuters' article

Special Reports: Rituxan - The 15 best-selling drugs of 2012 | Top 10 Late-Stage Cancer Drugs – 2012

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