Switzerland’s Roche and its US partner OSI Pharmaceuticals say that new results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reveal that adding Tarceva to gemcitabine chemotherapy significantly improves survival in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Data from this study, conducted by the National Cancer Institute of

Canada, formed the basis of the recent European approval of Tarceva (erlotinib) for the treatment of patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer (in combination with chemotherapy) announced in January. The results showed a statistically significant increase in overall survival in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer who received Tarceva plus gemcitabine, compared to patients receiving gemcitabine alone with an overall 22% improvement in survival.

A higher percentage of patients were alive at 12 months in the group treated with Tarceva plus gemcitabine, compared to those treated with chemotherapy alone (23% v 17%), while progression-free survival was also significantly improved for patients treated with the Roche/OSI drug.

The Swiss drugs major said that this survival increase is impressive as pancreatic cancer is a particularly fatal form of cancer responsible for over 80,000 deaths across Europe each year, and despite significant advances in the treatment of many other tumours, “options for pancreatic patients are extremely limited and until now, no therapies have demonstrated an improvement in survival for the past decade.”

Tarceva is also approved to treat non-small cell lung cancer and is currently being studied in combination with Avastin (bevacizumab) in that disease and in a wide variety of other solid tumour types.