Roche Makes Bid to Advance Position in Personalized Medicine

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Personalized medicine, which targets individualized treatment and care based on personal and genetic variations, holds much promise for the pharmaceutical industry.

Personalized medicine, which targets individualized treatment and care based on personal and genetic variations, holds much promise for the pharmaceutical industry. Several pharmaceutical majors continue to invest in this emerging field as evident by Roche’s $5.7-billion bid last week for Illumina, a provider of gene-sequencing tools and related analytics.

Roche, perhaps, more than any other pharmaceutical company, is banking heavily on the combination of diagnostics and drug development to drive pharmaceutical innovation. In reporting its 2010 results in February 2011, Roche reported that it had 12 new molecular entities in late-stage development, of which six were potential personalized healthcare medicines with planned companion diagnostic tests, which included Zelboraf (vemurafenib) and its companion diagnostic for BRAF mutation-positive metastatic melanoma. FDA approved Zelboraf for treating BRAF V600E mutation-positive, inoperable, or metastatic melanoma and the cobas 4800 BRAF V600 Mutation Test, a diagnostic test developed by Roche, in August 2011.


Earlier this month, the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use recommended that Zelboraf be granted full marketing authorization as a monotherapy for treating adult patients with BRAF V600 mutation-positive unresectable or metastatic melanom. The corresponding European Commission decision on the marketing authorization of Zelboraf is expected in February 2012. Marketing authorization submissions for Zelboraf also are under review by health authorities in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, India, Mexico, Canada, and other countries worldwide.

Roche also is using its diagnostic strategy to support new indications for existing drugs. Last month, Roche reported that the cobas EGFR Mutation Test was CE-marked, an indicator of a product’s conformity with EU requirements, and is now commercially availabile in Europe and other countries that recognize the CE mark. The cobas EGFR Mutation Test is a companion diagnostic to identify patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who harbor mutations in the EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) gene and who may benefit from treatment with anti-EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors, such as Roche’ Tarceva (erlotinib). Tarceva, an oral EGFR inhibitor, was first approved in September 2004 to treat locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC after failure of at least one other chemotherapy treatment. It later was approved by the European Commission in September 2011 as a first-line monotherapy in people with locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC with EGFR-activating mutations.

Other companies also are reporting success with certain personalized medicines. In August 2011, FDA approved Pfizer’s Xalkori (crizotinib) for treating locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC that expresses the abnormal anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) as detected by an FDA-approved test. The agency approved the drug along with a diagnostic test for the ALK gene abnormality, Abbott Molecular’s Vysis ALK Break Apart FISH Probe Kit. Up to 7% of those patients with NSCLC, typically patients without a history of smoking, have the gene abnormality.

Although personalized medicines will likely hold only a small part of the overall pharmaceutical market by value and volume in the near term, these successes portend of a changing paradigm in drug development.