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Roche, Novartis lead on novel cancer therapies



23 July, 2005: Swiss pharmaceutical companies Roche and Novartis are riding on the reputation with novel cancer treatments while pharmaceutical giants Merck and Pfizer are more reliant on marketing blockbuster primary care drugs, according to market analysts' reports. 

Roche's recent rally has driven by its stake in the US biotechnology company, Genentech. Genentech became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Roche in 1999, since when Roche has floated shares in the company and reduced its stake to 55%. Genentech is responsible for targeted cancer drug Avastatin, which is already in use for the treatment of colon cancer and is in trials for prostate, pancreatic and ovarian cancers. 

So is the case with Herceptin, a drug used to treat women with advanced breast cancer. In the UK, the Health Secretary has ordered a fast-track assessment of Roche's Herceptin. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is planning to assess whether the drug should be made widely available through the NHS. 

Herceptin is a humanised monoclonal antibody (MAb) that was developed to target HER2-overexpressing BC cells. The Ab specifically binds to HER2 and in laboratory experiments has been found to directly inhibit tumour cell growth. It is a new, targeted approach developed for the treatment of MBC. 

Novartis' oncology R&D strategy is focused on recent discoveries in molecular genomics, rational drug design and novel drug-discovery technologies. The company's oncology programme includes research along two diverse axes: targeting the cancerous cells: signal transduction inhibitors, restoration of defective cell death programmes, and cytotoxics/antimetabolites; and addressing the host mechanisms interacting with cancerous growth, invasiveness and metastasis: inhibition of tumour angiogenesis, metalloproteases and antitumour vaccines.



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Roche, Novartis lead on novel cancer therapies
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