ZURICH/LONDON – Roche said on Friday it was ending a late-stage study of an experimental Alzheimer's drug after it failed to prove effective, underlining the difficulty of treating the memory-robbing disease.
The Swiss drugmaker also said a breast cancer trial had failed to demonstrate the benefit of adding its new drug Kadcyla to treatment programs, damaging its hopes of broadening sales in an commercial area it already dominates.
Fabian Wenner, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, said consensus forecasts for annual Kadcyla sales of 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.55 billion) in 2020 would now "have to come down significantly".
Shares in Roche, which in recent years has boasted one of the most productive research pipelines in the industry, fell 4.7 percent by 0840 GMT on the double setback.
German biotech firm MorphoSys, Roche's partner on the Alzheimer's project, fared even worse, with its stock falling 8.1 percent.
The setback for Alzheimer's drug gantenerumab is especially disappointing, since there had been hopes that giving it in the final Phase III study to patients with so-called prodromal disease, or pre-dementia, would produce a better outcome.
Many scientists believe the best hope for treating Alzheimer's lies in giving drugs at this earlier stage, before patients' brains are wrecked by the condition.
Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, already afflicts 44 million people worldwide and this figure is set to triple by 2050, according to campaign group Alzheimer's Disease International.
Unlike heart disease and cancer, which have seen major strides in drug development, no new therapies have been approved to treat Alzheimer's in a decade.
NOT GIVING UP
Roche suffered a setback with another experimental Alzheimer's drug earlier this year, but the company insisted it was not giving up.
"This is the first Phase III trial to evaluate a potential disease-modifying medicine in this early prodromal stage of Alzheimer’s disease. We remain committed to investigating new medicines for this devastating illness," said Roche Chief Medical Officer Sandra Horning.
Gantenerumab continues to be studied in another Phase III trial involving patients with later stage disease and Roche has two other experimental Alzheimer’s drugs in Phase II tests, crenezumab and RG1577.
Separately, Roche's late-stage study in women with previously untreated advanced HER2-positive breast cancer showed three of its treatments helped people live without their disease worsening.
However, the two treatment arms containing Kadcyla did not prove superior to other approaches in terms of improving the time patients lived without their disease progressing.
U.S. firm ImmunoGen contributes technology to Kadcyla and gets royalties on sales.