Roche axes two pipeline COVID drugs as pandemic hits Q1 pharma sales

Roche has axed two mid-stage COVID drugs from its development pipeline, according to a first quarter results statement showing the pandemic has hit sales in its medicines business.

Gone from the pipeline is a phase 2 trial of astegolimab (RG6149), a drug that binds to IL-33 and ST2 in COVID-19 related pneumonia Roche said in a detailed version of its quarterly report.

This follows a decision to end an asthma trial involving the drug earlier this year.

Roche also ended a phase 2 study of RG7880 (efmarodocokin alfa) also in COVID-related pneumonia.

RG7880 binds to Il-22 and is described as a human recombinant protein that could be used across multiple inflammatory and metabolic diseases.

Roche announced a lacklustre set of results showing sales of a reported 14.9 billion Swiss francs ($16.2 billion), a 1% fall from last year’s Q1.

This dragged down revenues for the company, which does not give detail about quarterly profits.

The pandemic has hurt sales in its main drug business, although this was offset by demand for the COVID tests and other diagnostics.

Diagnostics sales were up 55% to 4.3 billion francs, while pharmaceuticals revenue slipped 9% to 10.6 billion francs.

Roche has had limited success developing its already-marketed inflammatory diseases drug Actemra (tocilizumab) as a treatment for COVID-19.

Despite a mixed batch of trial results in COVID-19 Roche and its Swiss rival Novartis have agreed a deal to support the effort to develop it as a coronavirus therapy.

Last week Roche agreed to transfer Actemra technology to Novartis, allowing the drug to be manufactured at the latter’s facility in Singapore during the second quarter of this year.

Novartis will reserve capacity at the site in the agreement that also covers validation of manufacturing processing.

In January results from the UK’s REMAP-CAP trial found Actemra, an IL-6 inhibitor and Sanofi’s class rival  Kevzara (sarilumab) reduced relative risk of death by 24% in COVID-19 patients who had just entered intensive care.

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