Roche’s IMpower 132 hits on progression-free survival, but Merck remains in control — for now — on frontline lung cancer

Roche just leaped forward in the rankings of the big league lung cancer game. But they’re still not ready yet to challenge a dominant Merck.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its IMpower 132 trial — a combination of its PD-L1 Tecentriq and chemo — scored promising progressive-free survival data among patients with frontline cases of non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer.

The trial, though, has not yet hit success in overall survival, leaving Merck’s dominant combination of Keytruda and chemo clearly out front. Researchers will continue to follow the more than 500 patients in the study, in bad need of a significant readout for OS.

Severin Schwan

Without it, they remain just another bystander.

Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat hit that point in a research note out Thursday morning. Comparing timelines, he says it seems clear that Keytruda is out front of the Tecentriq combo rival. He adds: “(T)he competitor readouts have continued to solidify MRK’s leadership in 1L lung.”

We don’t know the data yet, but you can be sure analysts will closely measure every result that comes out of IMpower 132, one of the top competitive trials in the immuno-oncology field. In a recent meeting with Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson, Roche CEO Severin Schwan noted that:

Keytruda is ahead, but depending on how various trials read out, ROG could be back in the game, particularly with IMpower 132.

Roche, though, is ready to talk about an approval now.

Sandra Horning

“The IMpower132 study showed TECENTRIQ plus chemotherapy prolonged the time people with this type of advanced lung cancer lived without their disease worsening. We will discuss these results with health authorities,” said Roche CMO Sandra Horning in a prepared statement.

Up to now, Bristol-Myers Squibb has been Merck’s chief competition. But Bristol-Myers’ approach to frontline lung cancer involves treating them with a combination of Opdivo and Yervoy after identifying patients with a high tumor mutation burden, which so far remains difficult to do. Bristol’s researchers are a long way from giving up on this, but they also have a long way to go before they can convince most analysts that they have a shot of taking on Merck.

For now, checkpoints plus chemo remain the way to go in this big cancer field. 

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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