pharmaceutical industry

Blow to Roche’s cancer immunotherapy prospects as second trial fails

Blow to Roche’s cancer immunotherapy prospects as second trial fails

ROCHE. The logo of Swiss drugmaker Roche is seen at its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland January 30, 2020.

Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

In a study, a combination of tiragolumab and Roche's established Tecentriq drug did not slow disease progression in newly diagnosed cases of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer when compared with patients on Tecentriq only

Development of a new cancer immunotherapy pioneered by Roche was thrown in doubt on Wednesday, May 11, when the drug, tiragolumab, failed to slow progression of lung cancer in a second trial.

In a study, a combination of tiragolumab and Roche’s established Tecentriq drug did not slow disease progression in newly diagnosed cases of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer when compared with patients on Tecentriq only, the company said.

That was after tiragolumab in March failed to slow progression of a different, more aggressive form of lung cancer. 

Roche shares were seen 2.2% lower in bank Julius Baer’s pre-market trading.

The setback will likely give pause to more than half a dozen companies working on similar compounds in a class of drugs called anti-TIGIT. Merck & Co has been seen as closest behind Roche in that race.

Roche added that the trial would continue after the disappointing interim readout to gather more data on tiragolumab’s ability to prolong the lives of trial participants.

“While these results are not what we hoped for in our first analysis, we look forward to seeing mature overall survival for this study to determine next steps,” said Roche Chief Medical Officer Levi Garraway.

TIGIT is a receptor found on immune system cells as a backstop to prevent misguided immune attacks against normal body tissue. Some cancer types, however, exploit TIGIT to grow unnoticed by cell-killing immune cells.

A similar mode of action is behind a blockbuster class of immune drugs known as PD-1 and PD-L1, such as Merck & Co’s Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo.

That multi-billion-dollar success has pushed the industry to explore similar anti-cancer concepts, such as anti-TIGIT, typically tested in a drug cocktail with established PD-1 or PD-L1 drugs.

Gilead Sciences last November exercised an option to collaborate with Arcus Biosciences RCUS.N on the anti-TIGIT drug domvanalimab.

GlaxoSmithKline in June 2021 struck a licensing deal worth up to $2 billion with iTeos Therapeutics Inc for an anti-TIGIT candidate. 

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Agenus Inc are collaborating on a drug under a May 2021 partnership.

Coherus BioSciences in January exercised an option to license a drug candidate by Shanghai Junshi Biosciences for the US and Canadian markets.

For Roche, which is seeking to offset a decline in sales due to competition from cheaper copies of a trio of established cancer drugs, more hope rests now on an experimental Alzheimer’s drug for which trial results are expected later this year. –