AstraZeneca pulls the plug on sepsis drug after trial tanks

Add another failure in AstraZeneca's pipeline. The London-based drug giant ($AZN) and partner BTG ($BTG) have scrapped development of an experimental antibody for sepsis and septic shock after mid-stage study bombed, BTG announced today. And even though the drug was a long shot for success, the failure denies AZ of a potential blockbuster at a time when the drugmaker desperately needs new products.

AstraZeneca launched the trial in 2010 in hopes that BTG's antibody, CytoFab or AZD9773, could reduce days on a ventilator and deaths in sepsis and septic shock patients. Sepsis, a sometimes deadly immune overreaction to infection, has always been a risky indication for developers. But the drug missed both goals the study compared with placebo, prompting AZ to hand back the asset to BTG, which has no plans to continue the program, the company said.

Sepsis hits about 3 million people annually and about 30 percent of them die, according to AZ. Had CytoFab succeeded, AZ would have had a $1.6 billion drug to bring to market, and the smaller BTG would have enjoyed a quarter of the spoils, Deutsche Bank analyst Richard Parkes said, as quoted by Reuters. AstraZeneca, which saw its late-stage trial for the antidepressant TC-5214 flop earlier this year, has suffered a string of R&D setbacks. CytoFab brings another defeat for AZ's R&D group, whose ability to advance new drugs to market has been called into question.

For BTG, the collapse of the CytoFab program wipes away a key asset that the company acquired in its purchase of the biotech Protherics. Yet neither BTG nor AZ's stocks have fallen much after today's bad news, presumably because few analysts expected the antibody drug to succeed in the Phase IIb study in the first place.

Still, the failure can only spur R&D chief Martin Mackay's hunt for new deals and research opportunities to sure up AstraZeneca's pipeline as the blockbuster antipsychotic Seroquel hits a generics wall and patents on other key products lose steam.

- here's the release
- read Reuters' article

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