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Roche to show investors strength in and beyond cancer drugs

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche will highlight its most promising treatments in oncology, immunology and ophthalmology at an investor event on Tuesday, as it seeks to show its potential in and beyond its core cancer expertise.

The world's biggest maker of cancer medicines cited etrolizumab in inflammatory bowel disease and lampalizumab, a treatment for the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), as among its most promising therapies.

The Basel-based firm is also developing so-called "follow on" drugs that it hopes will replace or breathe new life into old cancer products.

Roche will update investors on Kadcyla, a breast cancer drug for patients with late-stage disease where cancer cells contain increased amounts of a protein known as HER2. The drug was recommended recently for approval in Europe.

The company plans to use Kadcyla with fellow new medicine Perjeta and said it expects results from a late-stage trial in the second half of 2014.

The success of drugs such as Kadycla and Perjeta, as well as its GA101 follow-on to top-seller Rituxan, are a key test of its ability to fend off competition from cheaper copies known as "biosimilars".

Roche will also highlight other compounds in its hematology pipeline, such as antibody conjugates anti-CD22 and anti-CD79b, which are being tested in combination with Rituxan in a head-to-head mid-stage study in patients with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

The drugmaker is also making waves in the field of immunotherapy, with researchers calling its experimental MPDL3280A drug a potential "game changer" in patients with a form of the disease called non-small cell lung cancer.

Analysts at Jefferies expect Roche to become one of the dominant players in immune-oncology alongside Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Roche says it will continue to test MPDL3280A in combination with other therapies and is running early stage studies combining it with Zelboraf in metastatic melanoma and Avastin in solid tumours.

After scrapping drugs to treat diabetes and boost levels of "good" high-density cholesterol, Roche is hoping to highlight its potential beyond cancer.

It expects to start a late-stage trial for etrolizumab in ulcerative colitis and in Crohn's disease in the first half of 2014.

The company is also in discussions with health authorities about a late-stage trial for its eye drug lampalizumab in the dry form of AMD known as geographic atrophy.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by David Goodman)

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