(Adds analyst reaction)
By Ben Hirschler
Sept 6 (Reuters) - Patients taking Roche's targeted lung cancer drug Alecensa have a far lower risk of their disease spreading in the brain than those on Pfizer's Xalkori, according to new clinical trial data.
The results, which will be presented at the Sept. 8-12 European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress in Madrid, reinforce Alecensa's position in an increasingly competitive market.
Alecensa is designed to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in patients with a mutation of the ALK gene, which is found in about 4 percent of all people with NSCLC.
Clinical results in June had already shown Alecensa worked better than Xalkori. The new data adds to evidence of its benefits, with Roche's drug shown to control existing brain metastases and inhibit the formation of new ones.
Among patients who had existing metastases in the central nervous system (CNS), Alecensa reduced the risk of disease progression in the CNS by 60 percent compared with Xalkori, according to a new clinical trial subgroup analysis.
In patients without CNS disease at the start of testing, Alecensa reduced the risk of disease progression in the CNS by 49 percent.
A second study showed an 85 percent reduction in risk of disease worsening or death versus chemotherapy in patients who had previously seen their disease worsen on chemotherapy and Xalkori.
"There are other drugs out there but so far it looks really good for Alecensa," said Thomas Buechele, Roche's head of global medical affairs for oncology.
Doctors may use the latest data to decide it makes sense to use the latest generation of drugs as first-line treatment rather than starting with older therapies.
Brain metastases are a major problem because Xalkori does not cross into the central nervous system.
Novartis also has a relatively new drug for ALK+ lung cancer called Zykadia, while Takeda became the latest to join the race in April when it won approval for Alunbrig, a drug it acquired after buying Ariad.
"In comparison to both the ALK inhibitors from rivals Pfizer and Novartis, Roche has the best product in its hand," said Zuercher Kantonalbank analyst Michael Nawrath, who estimates sales of Alecensa will hit 1.4 billion Swiss francs ($1.5 billion) by 2024 and capture about 70 percent of the market.
NSCLC is a major focus for the upcoming ESMO congress, with AstraZeneca investors keen to see results from two big clinical trials that could potentially offset a major clinical trial setback in July.
$1 = 0.9539 Swiss francs Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter