Adding Roche, Genentech and OSI Pharmaceuticals’ oncology agent, Tarceva (erlotinib), to chemotherapy improves survival in patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer, according to clinical trial data from the companies.

The Phase III trial included some 569 patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer who received either Eli Lilly’s Gemzar (gemcitabine) – the current first-line therapy for the treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer – and Tarceva, or Gemzar plus placebo. Twenty-four percent of patients receiving Tarceva plus Gemzar were alive after one year, compared to 17% of patients receiving Gemzar plus placebo – a statistically significant finding. Average survival in the Tarceva arm was 6.4 months, versus 5.9 months for those receiving Gemzar alone. There was also a statistically significant increase (24%) in overall survival in patients who received Tarceva plus Gemzar, compared to patients receiving Gemzar.

Tarceva, which recently won the green light in the all-important US market in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer [[22/11/04d]], is currently under review with the European health authorities [[26/08/04b]]. It is being investigated in the treatment of other solid tumours, such as ovarian, colorectal, head and neck, renal cell carcinoma, glioma and gastrointestinal cancers. The firms note that pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of all cancer deaths; in Europe each year 60,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and current treatment options are limited.