Clovis leaps as AstraZeneca's AZD9291 disappoints on lung cancer

AstraZeneca ($AZN) may still be in front in the late-stage race to develop a targeted new drug for non-small cell lung cancer, but new data has analysts wondering if its lead over rival Clovis ($CLVS) has shortened in the final stretch.

The pharma giant says that AZD9291, one of its top cancer prospects, demonstrated median progression free survival of 8.6 months in a mid-stage study of previously treated patients with the EGFR T790M mutation. By itself, that was a positive outcome, but nothing that AstraZeneca does here plays out in a vacuum. The result--based on preliminary data that could yet change--fell short of the advantage that some analysts were looking for to keep competition from Clovis's rociletinib (CO-1686) at bay. And it was uncomfortably close to the 8-month PFS rate that Clovis had to explain for the same patients at the latest ASCO gathering in Chicago.

Advantage, Clovis, which saw its shares shoot up 14% on Wednesday, with a fresh bump Thursday morning.

"Heading into WCLC, feedback from MEDACorp key opinion leaders (KOLs) was that if AZD9291 maintained its 3-month PFS advantage over rociletinib as highlighted at ECLC and ASCO they would use AZD9291 in 80-90% of T790m + patients," noted Leerink's Seamus Fernandez. "With these data, most KOLs still prefer AZD9291, but the impact frequency of rash with AZD9291 vs. diabetes with rociletinib suggests that AZD9291 may not dominate the market to the degree previously assumed."

AstraZeneca may be far, far bigger than Clovis, but it has just as much to prove as the biotech. AZD9291 and its close-watched PD-L1 program are central to the pharma giant's case that it is on the comeback trail after years in the industry dog house. And Clovis is also advancing rucaparib, a rival to AstraZeneca's newly-approved Lynparza.

The race, though, is far from finished. And analysts will be judging every new data set that comes through.

- here's the release