Roche’s immunotherapy Tecentriq (atezolizumab) has been shown to improve survival in lung cancer patients by almost five months in a new trial.

Tecentriq plus chemotherapy boosted median overall survival to 18.6 months, compared to 13.9 months for chemotherapy alone. The combination also significantly reduced the risk of disease worsening or death compared to chemotherapy alone, with median progression-free survival at 7 months versus 5.5 months.

However the results still come months after significant trials for Merck’s Keytruda that have secured the rival drug’s position as the foremost immunotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer, meaning Roche is still playing catch-up in the space.

"Initial treatment with this Tecentriq-based combination provided a significant survival benefit for people with non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer," said Sandra Horning, MD, Roche's Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product Development. "Lung cancer is a complex disease and this combination could offer a new potential treatment option. We will work with global health authorities to bring this regimen to people living with this disease as soon as possible."

The results were announced at the ESMO congress, where on Saturday Roche also announced positive results from a study of Tecentriq plus chemotherapy for the first-line treatment of unresectable locally advanced or metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

In this area the combo increased PFS  to 7.2 months from 5.5 months, and to 7.5 months from 5.0 months in the PD-L1-positive population.

"These important results in people with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer whose disease expresses the PD-L1 protein are highly encouraging and represent a significant step forward in the treatment of this challenging disease," said Horning.

Roche also revealed that its targeted cancer drug entrectinib shrank tumours in 57% of a genetically-profiled patient group with the NTRK gene anomaly.

The anomaly occurs in less than 1% of patients across a range of tumour types.

Bayer and its partner Loxo also released data for a rival to entrectinib, larotrectinib, which showed that it shrank tumours in 81% of patients with the NTRK anomaly.

Roche said that data from the two trials were not comparable because they covered different patient types.