Hope Remains for Genentech Cancer Drug

An ovarian cancer drug under development by Genentech that many investors had written off showed promise in a midstage trial, even though the trial may not have met its main goal.

Genentech said late on Thursday that results from a midstage, or Phase II trial of pertuzumab, formerly known as Omnitarg, in combination with Eli Lilly's cancer drug Gemzar, were "encouraging," though it did not provide data.

Jason Kantor, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said the company told him in an interview that data showed pertuzumab did not stave off the disease by a statistically significant amount.

"I asked the company if the word "encouraging" implied that they did not meet the primary endpoint and they confirmed it with me," Kantor said.

However, he said the data may be strong enough to prompt the company to test the drug in late-stage trials.

Officials at Genentech were not immediately available for comment. Genentech is majority-owned by Roche Holding.

The results of the trial surprised analysts as the drug had failed to show significant benefit in several trials -- reported at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology -- when used as a stand-alone treatment.

Now, there may at least be a glimmer of hope that the drug could be successful.

Roche is conducting its own trial of the drug and could report results in the first half of 2007. If that trial proves successful, the companies could decide to conduct late-stage, or Phase III trials, analysts said.

Genentech said in a statement it plans to release data from its study at an upcoming medical meeting.

The company said no new or unexpected safety signals were reported in the pertuzumab study of 130 women and adverse events were similar to those encountered in previous clinical trials of the drug and included fatigue, diarrhea, back pain and neutropenia.