Roche's oncology pipeline has been considered one of the strongest in Big Pharma and has served as a primary source of income for the drug maker. According to its 2005 financial report, 40 per cent of global sales at its pharmaceutical division came from its oncology drugs.
Its strength has been thanks to its acquisition of Genentech in 1990. By purchasing the biotechnology outfit Roche has gained access to a highly successful mAb R&D pipeline.
Added to the relative inability of Big Pharma to secure similar deals with partners of a similar size or expertise to Genentech, Roche's position looks secure for the meantime.
Speaking at a press briefing, William Burns, CEO Division >Roche Pharma, outlined his plans to an audience, in which he described upcoming development activities for Roche's Oncology division.
Central to this is the development programme with Avastin and its effectiveness in a broad range of cancers, including renal cell carcinoma, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.
"Studies to expand the options for combining Avastin with other chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and metastatic breast cancer are also ongoing," he commented.
"In addition, preparations are underway to start phase III trials in adjuvant indication of NSCLC and breast cancer, and Genentech recently started recruiting into an adjuvant rectal cancer study."
A recent trial with Herceptin in combination with hormonal therapy showed that the time HER-2 postiive breast cancer patients live with their disease not progressing increased.
In addition, a Xeloda trial in advanced gastric cancer met its primary endpoint showing it to be at least as effective as current therapy.
Burns added that the phase III programmes of MabThera in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), Herceptin in gastric cancer, Xeloda in metastatic colorectal cancer and adjuvant colon and breast cancer, and Tarceva in NSCLC were on track.
Roche also provided details of its diagnostic role in cancer treatment, outlining its intention to step up its research into new biomarkers of high diagnostic value in monitoring disease progression.
Currently, a single assay format (AmpliChips) is close to development for the classification of cancer diseases in haematology such as leukaemia and lymphoma.
"Candidate markers have been identified and are currently being evaluated for potential use," said Joachim Eberle, Head of R&D Roche, Centralised Diagnostics.
Roche also commented on a prototype test (leukaemia custom chip) is expected to be ready for further research applications at the end of 2006. A similar approach is selected for the classification of lymphomas.
Another micro array-based product currently in development is the AmpliChip p53 Test. Several research collaborations to investigate the potential clinical applications of this test are underway. The p53 gene is one of a family of genes called tumour suppressors, which code for proteins that prevent damaged cells from reproducing.
Mutations that affect p53 functions and activity, the AmpliChip p53 test may one day help physicians select the anticancer medicines best suited to their patients' need