AstraZeneca punts cancer drugs, PhIII checkpoint combo in Q1 cleanup

AstraZeneca

Every quarter AstraZeneca highlights its pipeline advances and setbacks, then lists the programs that just didn’t make the cut for going forward. And in Q1 AstraZeneca discontinued 8 different programs--including a late-stage effort involving its closely watched checkpoint drug. They included:

  • AZD5312--an Ionis drug also dubbed IONIS-AR-2.5Rx, which had been in early-stage studies for prostate cancer.
  • AZD8835, a PI3K alpha/delta inhibitor in studies for solid tumors, didn’t make the cut.
  • And there was a combo study of the newly approved Tagrisso with its PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor durvalumab that was terminated.

“During the period, the Company decided not to restart enrollment of patients into CAURAL, a Phase III trial assessing Tagrisso in combination with durvalumab as a potential second and later-line treatment for patients with EGFRm T790M NSCLC,” the company reported. “The decision not to restart enrollment reflects the view that the trial design no longer offers the best setting to assess this combination. There has been no change in the safety or data findings following the suspension of enrollment into the trial in October 2015.”

None of this is ground-shaking news at the pharma giant, where Pascal Soriot has been engaged in a rapid series of deals since taking the helm. AstraZeneca has been investing heavily on cancer drugs, and during the first quarter added a key EU approval for Tagrisso, following up on its fast-paced program that moved the drug from its first clinical trial to an approval in just two years. 

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That's what AstraZeneca needs to see more of.

Soriot, who expects to earn billions from Tagrisso, says he’s turning up the heat on cancer R&D, looking to make up revenue that is being lost to generic competition. The top prospect in cancer is durvalumab, but Bristol-Myers and Merck are already dominating the field with the first two approved PD-1 drugs and Roche promises to get engaged in next as the third entry. 

AstraZeneca will have to look for second-wave opportunities to score now.

During the big showdown with Pfizer, Soriot promised investors he would push the company to $45 billion in revenue by 2023. He has 7 years to make good on that promise. And as of now it’s not looking good.

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