CHICAGO--Considering the media din surrounding the big immuno-oncology PD-1 drugs at Merck ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), it's been almost quiet when it comes to Roche's rival PD-L1 drug MPDL3280A. But don't let the low-key pitch fool you. The giant R&D machine at Genentech has been laboring in this field since 2000, when the company originally identified PD-L1 as a target worth exploring. And it's been moving faster than some people might think, with an ambitious internal combo strategy focused on both approved drugs and experimental therapies.
Today, Roche ($RHHBY) put out the word that their program won the FDA's coveted breakthrough therapy designation, potentially putting it on an inside track at the agency, which has been hurrying along new medicines in the pipeline.