World Breast Cancer Day

much has been achieved,
but more is possible

1st of October is World Breast Cancer Day

With more than 70,000 new diagnoses every year, breast cancer is the most common tumour disease in women in Germany. Every year 17,000 patients die from this disease. And the number is increasing further worldwide.

HER2-positive Krebszelle

HER2-positive breast cancer – what is it?

Nearly every fifth breast cancer patient is HER2-positive: in these patients the so-called HER2 receptor is over-produced on the surface of the cancer cells. It stimulates the tumour to particularly rapid growth through its interaction with other receptors. The therapeutic antibodies developed by Roche specifically block the signals which stimulate the growth of the tumour.

HER2-positive cancer cell


Breast cancer research at Roche

Some 30 years ago, Roche and Genentech - in those days as US development partners - started with the research and development of several active substances for treating patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. The first therapeutic antibody was first marketed in 1998 in the USA following years of intensive research.

Die Zahl der Hautkrebsfälle durch Solarien übersteigt die der Lungenkrebsfälle durch Rauchen

Failure is part of progress

This was followed up by research into a second antibody, both in the USA as well as at the R&D centre of Roche in Penzberg, just south of Munich. However, the development of a therapeutic product is a long road full of imponderables, doubts and short-term corrections. Finally, the results of five Phase II studies were available in 2005: all were negative. Should one give up now?

Über 50% Krebserkrankungen vermeidbar

Perseverance and courage are the essence

Roche kept on going: "The belief in our abilities was greater than the fear of repeated failure", commented Dr. Stefan Frings, Medical Director at Roche. In those days he headed up the project team consisting of the Penzberg research scientists Dr. Max Hasmann, Dr. Werner Scheuer and Dr. Thomas Friess. That was in 2005.

Dr. Stefan Frings


Breakthrough at the last minute

And then the successful breakthrough: The already approved antibody was combined with the new active substance. At first in a small study with only a few patients. Then in a larger study in direct comparison to the standard therapy.


Long awaited - marketing authorisations for the therapeutic product

The combination of the new and the old antibodies was finally approved for the treatment of patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. Initially for women at an advanced stage of the disease - and later on for women at an early stage as so-called neoadjuvant treatment prior to surgery. Today, the antibody combination has become an established standard for both therapeutic situations.

Neue Perspektiven

New perspectives for breast cancer patients

Roche continues to conduct research into the combination of the two antibodies. For example, also for women with HER2-positive breast cancer at an early stage who have already undergone surgery. First results were presented by Roche this year (2017) at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) - the world's most important cancer congress.


Personalised Medicine – a look into the future

Extensive biomarker programmes are ongoing as part of the presented study. The objective is, for example, to identify biomarkers to act as indicators for the risk of relapse. Completely in line with personalised medicine, those patients could then be identified who would particularly benefit from treatment with the antibody combination.

Brustkrebs tritt häufiger in der linken als in der rechten Brust auf

Resilience pays off

Research is firmly anchored in the Roche DNA. Dr. Max Hasmann, Pharma Research Penzberg, has been accompanying breast cancer research at Roche for many years and is akin to the German "Godfather" for the combination of the two antibodies. His conclusion: "It was one of the happiest days in my life. It is a unique experience to develop a therapeutic product which can help so many women."

Dr. Max Hasmann

To Roche in Oncology*