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Bayer to work with Foundation Medicine on cancer patient screening

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Bayer announced a collaboration deal with Roche's Foundation Medicine Inc. to develop a test for sequencing tumour genomes to identify patients who can benefit from Bayer's cancer drug hopeful Vitrakvi.

Vitrakvi, which Bayer acquired from Eli Lilly's Loxo Oncology, has been shown to quell solid tumours that were triggered to grow by genetic changes known as NTRK fusions.

The therapeutic effect has been described as dramatic but only about 0.5 to 1.0% of solid tumours are driven by NTRK fusions. Identifying those patients requires advanced genetic diagnostic tools.

Bayer has said the drug could generate annual sales of more than 750 million euros but analysts have cautioned that uptake would depend on fine-tuning existing genetic sequencing tools and on persuading physicians to use the tests despite the slight chances of it yielding a promising candidate for treatment.

Vitrakvi, which won U.S. regulatory approval in November last year, is seen as a bright spot in Bayer's development pipeline which has suffered a number of setbacks while loss of patent protection for its best-selling Xarelto drug looms in 2024.

The German group in February exercised a right to gain the full licensing rights to Vitrakvi under a clause in the initial 2017 collaboration deal with Loxo Oncology that provided for Loxo becoming a takeover target.

A Bayer spokeswoman said the company hopes to win regulatory approval for the jointly developed test next year.

Bayer, which acquired agricultural seed maker Monsanto last year, said the collaboration with Foundation could be extended to other experimental oncology drugs, which it did not specify.

Bayer is also developing compound LOXO-195, which is designed as a follow-on treatment for patients whose tumours have grown resistant to Vitrakvi.

(Additiona reporting by Patricia Weiss; Editing by Thomas Seythal and Thomas Escritt)