AZ pushes pedal to metal on PhIII oral RA blitzkrieg

Just six months after AstraZeneca paid $100 million upfront to grab the licensing rights to Rigel's promising oral rheumatoid arthritis therapy, the pharma giant is ramping up a slate of late-stage trials as it drives toward a planned set of regulatory filings. For AstraZeneca, the clinical blitzkrieg reflects its determination to move quickly on fostamatanib as it jockeys for a better position in a development race against Pfizer on successors to the current generation to anti-TNF injections.

The partnership is certainly paying off for Rigel, which announced this morning that it snagged a rich $25 million milestone for the clinical advance. Reuters' savvy Ben Hirschler picked up on AstraZeneca's quick-march decision to bounce back from a pair of critical trial failures last year. For Hirschler, the deal represents AstraZeneca's decision to switch focus rapidly rather than get mired by setbacks. And it's relying on considerable expertise to gain a better competitive position.

"It illustrates a departure for AstraZeneca. At the same time as we were progressing with our own two compounds in Phase IIb, we were also looking at the competitive opposition," Ricky Bache, head of the fostamatinib global product team, told Reuters. "Within two weeks of us regrettably finding we had a negative result with our compounds, we were already talking to Rigel ...We're pretty pleased with how fast we moved."

Rigel, which gained a $1.24 billion pact for R788, is pretty pleased with itself, as well.

"We are proud of our team's ability to successfully and smoothly transition both aspects of the fostamatinib program to AstraZeneca in just six months time, and are pleased to know that fostamatinib will be the focus of one of the largest Phase III studies in RA patients conducted to date," said James M. Gower, chairman and chief executive officer of Rigel.

- read the release from Rigel
- here's the Reuters story