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Study Adds to Benefits of Rituxan

January 24, 2002|DENISE GELLENE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A study appearing in today's New England Journal of Medicine said a cancer drug co-marketed by Genentech Inc. and Idec Pharmaceuticals Corp. improves survival among patients with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma when administered with standard chemotherapy.

The study is likely to spur the already substantial "off-label" use of Rituxan among patients with the fast-spreading form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Rituxan, among the best-selling cancer drugs and a key profit driver for Genentech and Idec, is approved only as a treatment for indolent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is incurable.

However, an editorial signed by Dr. Bruce Cheson of the National Cancer Institute cautioned oncologists from immediately adopting the treatment regimen described in the French study.

He noted that the differences in survival rates between patients treated with a combination of Rituxan and chemotherapy and chemotherapy alone narrow after two years.

A second disincentive cited by Cheson is the price of Rituxan, which will add $24,000 to the cost of treatment. The standard chemotherapy regimen, a combination of four drugs known by the acronym CHOP, costs $5,000.

The study was financed by Hoffman-LaRoche, which markets Rituxan in Europe and owns 58.4% of South San Francisco-based Genentech. U.S. sales of Rituxan grew to $779 million in 2001, up 84% from $424.3 million the previous year..

The aggressive, fast-moving form of the disease, though curable in 30% to 40% of cases with chemotherapy, is more prevalent, and thus represents a significant opportunity for Rituxan.

Genentech shares rose $1.98 to close at $50.03 on the New York Stock Exchange. San Diego-based Idec climbed $3.32 to $65.06 on Nasdaq.

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