Switzerland’s Roche and US partner Genentech both witnessed significant gains in their respective share prices during trading yesterday after clinical trial data showed that their oncology agent, Avastin (bevacizumab), significantly improved survival in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer when added to a standard chemotherapy regimen.

Interim data from the 878-patient Phase II/III study, which were released by the US National Cancer Institute, showed that previously untreated NSCLC patients who received Avastin in addition to standard chemotherapy had an average overall survival of 12.5 months, compared to 10.2 months for those receiving standard chemotherapy alone. The full study data will be submitted to the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in May.

“To observe an improvement in survival in this study is remarkable, particularly as it is the first time in years that a study has shown an increase in survival for people with NSCLC in the first-line setting,” said William Burns, chief executive of Roche’s pharmaceutical division. “These results are extremely important and we plan to share the data with the regulatory authorities in order to discuss the next steps for registering Avastin for first-line treatment of NSCLC.”

Avastin works by choking off the blood supply that is essential for the growth of the tumour and its spread throughout the body. In Europe, it is approved for the first-line treatment of previously untreated colorectal cancer patients, in combination with chemotherapy [[14/01/05b]], and was launched in the all-important US market in February last year [[27/02/04a]]. It racked up 2004 sales of some $555 million dollars for Genentech [[11/01/05d]], and is widely expected to become a blockbuster earner for the two companies [[14/07/04c]].

Roche and Genentech are pursuing a wide-ranging clinical programme, examining Avastin in the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer with other chemotherapies and also expanding into the post operation setting. The companies are also investigating the drug’s potential in pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, renal cell carcinoma and others. Lung cancer is the world’s most common cancer, with 1.2 million new cases annually and someone dying of the disease every 30 seconds.