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With a Costly Cancer Drug, the Dose Appears Optional


Published: February 23, 2007

ZURICH, Feb. 22 (Reuters) — The American biotechnology company Genentech said Thursday that a low dose of its cancer drug Avastin worked just as well as a more expensive high dose in a clinical trial of patients with lung cancer.

Genentech’s shares fell 2.5 percent amid concern that the company, as well as its majority owner, Roche Holdings of Switzerland, would receive less revenue from the drug if doctors chose the low-dose version.

Results from a late-stage clinical trial showed that Avastin doses of both 7.5 milligrams for 2.2 pounds of a person’s weight and 15 milligrams for 2.2 pounds significantly lengthened the time that patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer lived without progression of the disease, when compared with chemotherapy alone.

“This means that future prescribing is likely to be done with the low dose of Avastin instead of the high dose,” said Karl-Heinz Koch, an analyst with Bank Vontobel. “The impact is that the monthly price for Avastin in non-small-cell lung cancer drops to $4,400 from $8,800.”

Analysts expect full data to be presented in May.

Mr. Koch said that Avastin sales were still “highly likely” to exceed 10 billion Swiss francs ($8.08 billion) in the longer term as the drug gained approval for use against other cancers.

The lower pricing could also attract more patients, offsetting some lost revenue, Morgan Stanley said, especially given the promising data from the trial.

No new safety issues associated with the use of Avastin were observed with either dose, Roche said.

Avastin is one of a new family of drugs that work by starving tumors of their blood supply. Roche and Genentech are banking on increased sales of Avastin to spur their growth.

United States sales of Avastin, which is approved for colon cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer and is being studied for other tumors, totaled $1.13 billion last year.

In trading Thursday, shares of Genentech fell $2.23, to $85.51, on the New York Stock Exchange. Certificates of participation in Roche fell 1.7 percent in Swiss trading, to 224.30 francs ($181.14).

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