AstraZeneca touts arthritis, lupus data with a rosy view of its pipeline

Two of AstraZeneca's ($AZN) key investigational drugs came through in mid-stage studies, providing some ballast for the drugmaker as it boasts the value of its pipeline in an effort to ward off an unwelcome bid by Pfizer ($PFE)--or at least drive up the asking price.

Mavrilimumab, a rheumatoid arthritis drug developed by AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit, met its primary endpoints in a 326-patient Phase IIb trial, the company said, rapidly improving symptoms like disability, pain and fatigue. Separately, the lupus-treating sifalimumab, also a MedImmune product, succeeded in a Phase II study, meeting its primary endpoint of patient response.

The results come a week after AstraZeneca surprised investors and analysts with some high-dollar projections for its in-development drugs, saying its pipeline can deliver "risk-adjusted" gross sales of $23 billion a year. Removing that caveat, the company believes it's sitting on $63 billion of potential revenue.

AstraZeneca hasn't set out sales projections for mavrilimumab, but it expects a combination of sifalimumab and the Phase I anifrolumab to bring in $1 billion a year.

Meanwhile, the U.K. drugmaker has waived off two 12-figure bids from would-be acquirer Pfizer, arguing that the latest, valued north of $106 billion, is "an opportunistic attempt to acquire a transformed AstraZeneca, without reflecting the value of its exciting pipeline."

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

And while the company has been steadfast in opposition to Pfizer's advances, CEO Pascal Soriot has said the company cannot rule out eventually accepting a bid. Pfizer is widely expected to come back with a sweeter offer in the coming weeks, and whether that figure will match AstraZeneca's pipeline excitement remains to be seen.

In the meantime, MedImmune--one of the main objects of Pfizer's interest--is using its latest data release to push its capabilities in monoclonal antibody development.

"Compelling Phase II data from two of our molecules--mavrilimumab for rheumatoid arthritis and sifalimumab for systemic lupus--further confirm our commitment to bringing new medicines to patients as quickly as possible," Executive Vice President Bahija Jallal said in a statement.

- read the statement

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