#ESMO17: Roche extends losing streak with a setback for Zelboraf as Novartis combo surges ahead

MADRID — Roche is on a losing streak.

Hard on the heels of a Phase III flop for a key eye drug, the pharma giant was forced to concede at ESMO that Zelboraf failed to significantly help a group of patients with Stage 3 melanoma. And they acknowledged that flop just as Novartis heralded a success in a Stage 3 group with their combination of Tafinlar and Mekinist.

Roche did note a success on an earlier stage of the disease, with a 46% reduction in recurrence risk recorded in stage IIC-IIIB patients.

Sandra Horning

Novartis, meanwhile, recruited 870 patients with stage III BRAF V600E/K mutation-positive melanoma who had complete surgical resection treated with the combination of Tafinlar (dabrafenib) and Mekinist (trametinib). Researchers underscored a statistically significant 53% reduction in the risk of death or recurrence in patients treated with the BRAF and MEK inhibitor combination therapy versus placebo.

For Novartis the success comes as its dual franchise — obtained from GSK in a big asset swap — has enjoyed steadily rising revenue. Roche, though, has had to contend with declining sales for Zelboraf, which now has a narrower future than Roche had hoped for.

“While results in people with stage IIIC melanoma were not what we had hoped, the reduction in the risk of recurrence in people with stage IIC-IIIB disease is encouraging and suggests Zelboraf may play a role in this earlier setting,” said Sandra Horning, Roche’s chief medical officer and head of global product development.

Image credit: ESMO

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