Roche and Genentech’s anticancer agent Herceptin (trastuzumab) received another boost to its already high profile this week after the companies unveiled new data from a 5,000-patient study showing a significant improvement in survival for women with an aggressive form of early-stage breast cancer.

This is the third set of positive data revealed for the drug this week [[26/04/05c]], helping send both companies’ share prices skywards on expectations that the marketplace for Herceptin will be opened yet further. Sales were already up 23% during the first quarter of 2005 to 390 million euros [[19/04/05b]].

This latest, international, trial involved 5,100 patients with early-stage HER-2 positive breast cancer, a particularly aggressive disease which has a poor prognosis and affects approximately 20%-30% of women with breast cancer. This so-called HERA study – one of the largest trials ever conducted in breast cancer - looked at the use of Herceptin versus observation following a range of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, and found a significant increase in disease free survival for patients given the Roche/Genentech drug.

“The combined data from over 8,000 patients analysed so far make a compelling case for Herceptin as an optimal treatment in HER2-positive early breast cancer and has potential to change the way breast cancer is managed,” said William Burns, chief executive of Roche’s pharmaceuticals division.