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Roche says Tecentriq combo cuts risk of disease worsening in lung cancer study

Roche Holding AG said treating certain lung cancer patients with a combination of its immunotherapy Tecentriq and chemotherapy reduced the risk of their disease worsening or death — one of the primary goals of a late-stage trial of the drug.

The trial, IMpower131, enrolled 1,021 previously untreated patients diagnosed with squamous non-small cell lung cancer that had spread to other places in the body. Interim results showed that patients getting Tecentriq and chemotherapy of carboplatin and Abraxane as the first line of treatment had progression-free survival — length of time during and after the treatment that a patient lives with the disease but it does not get worse — compared with those receiving chemotherapy alone. The results, however, have not yet shown a significant overall survival — the length of time patients diagnosed with a disease remain alive — compared with chemotherapy.

The study will continue as planned, Roche unit Genentech Inc., which conducted the trial, said in a press release. Genentech has eight late-stage lung cancer trials underway studying Tecentriq, or atezolizumab, alone or in combination with other medicines, and five are expected to report this year.

In the IMpower131 trial, patients were treated in three groups — the first group received Tecentriq and chemotherapy of carboplatin and paclitaxel. The second group received Tecentriq and chemotherapy of carboplatin and Abraxane, or nab-paclitaxel. The third group received only chemotherapy of carboplatin and nab-paclitaxel.

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"Squamous non-small cell lung cancer is difficult to treat and there have been limited new treatment options over the last few decades. We will share the IMpower131 results with global health authorities and we look forward to seeing more mature overall survival data," said Sandra Horning, chief medical officer of the Swiss company.

Additionally, Genentech found no new safety signals with the drug combinations.

Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for 85% of all lung cancers, with more than 234,000 diagnoses estimated to occur in the U.S. for 2018, according to the American Cancer Society.

Tecentriq is part of a class of immune system-boosting drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors. The inhibitor drugs target immune checkpoints such as PD-L1 and CTLA-4 to prevent cancer cells from downregulating and hiding from the body's immune system.

The drug is already approved in the U.S., the EU and 50 other countries to treat previously treated metastatic — when the cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body — non-small cell lung cancer, and locally advanced or metastatic bladder cancer.

Roche is evaluating Tecentriq in other cancers, including colon and kidney.