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Erbitux Extends Life in Cancer Patients


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Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Merck KGaA, the German drugmaker that bought Serono SA in January, said its Erbitux cancer medicine helped lung cancer patients live longer, contradicting the results of an earlier trial by ImClone Systems Inc.

The drug, combined with chemotherapy, met the main goal of an advanced test by faring better than chemotherapy alone, Darmstadt, Germany-based Merck said in a statement on DGAP- Adhoc wire today. Merck shares rose as much as 4.8 percent.

Merck, which bought rights to the drug outside the U.S. from ImClone in 1998, proved a benefit where its partner didn't, the study suggests. It used more patients and combined the drug with a different chemotherapy to show that Erbitux can prolong the lives of patients whose cancer had spread. As part of their agreement, ImClone may use Merck trial data for regulatory submissions in the U.S.

Non-small cell lung cancer that has spread from its primary site is extremely difficult to treat, so we are delighted with these results,'' said Wolfgang Wein, head of Merck's oncology business.

The patients, who had advanced lung tumors, had not previously been treated for the disease.

ImClone said in July that a study it conducted on lung cancer patients showed Erbitux failed to slow tumor growth. Merck said at the time that its trial may show a different outcome.

Quality of Life

Merck and ImClone are expanding tests on Erbitux as they try to close the gap on Roche Holding AG and Genentech Inc.'s Avastin. The German drugmaker plans to publish full data from the latest trial at a medical meeting soon. Spokeswoman Phyllis Carter declined to say which meeting.

The Merck trial also examines patients' response to the drug, how long it keeps lung cancer at bay, and the quality of life it offers as secondary goals, according to Carter. Once all the data are available it will decide when to submit an application to European drug regulators, she said.

The European drug agency is currently reviewing Erbitux, which is approved to treat colon cancer, as a first-choice therapy for tumors of the bowel. A submission for lung cancer can only take place once the agency has ruled on the current application, Carter said.

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