AstraZeneca buy Acerta faked cancer drug data, company admits

AstraZeneca global R&D HQ
AstraZeneca admitted that some early data for Acerta's acalabrutinib was crooked. (AstraZeneca/Herzog & DeMeuron)

Back in 2015, AstraZeneca bought a majority stake in blood cancer biotech Acerta for $4 billion. But over the weekend, it said that some early data for its drug acalabrutinib was falsified.

AZ invested in the biotech for its bruton tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor acalabrutinib (ACP-196). That drug is in a number of early, mid- and late-stage clinical trials across several blood cancers, including CLL and mantle cell lymphoma. It works in a similar way to AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica.

But Acerta had to recently retract an abstract, published in medical journal Cancer Research two years back—and just months before the AstraZeneca cash injection—which showed the drug as being effective in treating solid tumours in mice.

But AstraZeneca has now admitted the data were fabricated. It blamed a “former Acerta employee who acted alone to falsify a preclinical data set provided through external collaborations,” according to a statement reported by Retraction Watch

AstraZeneca added: “It’s important to note that this isolated issue had no impact on the integrity of acalabrutinib data in any clinical trials, and there was no risk to patient health.”

This will likely be little more than an embarrassment for both companies, and is not expected to impact the financial deal between the pair. But it has still caused ire on Bio Twitter, with many contacting FierceBiotech with questions over the difficulty in trusting biopharma in general when stories such as these emerge, and why it took several years for the falsification to come out.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to show that it was originally published by Retraction Watch, not The Daily Telegraph, as we first reported.