AstraZeneca PLC Kills Six Pipeline Programs

AstraZeneca Kills Six Pipeline Programs July 28, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Along with its dismal half-year financial reports, UK-based AstraZeneca announced it was halting six pipeline programs.

AstraZeneca is being hit hard by patent expirations, particularly Crestor, whose sales dropped by 29 percent in the second quarter and 15 percent in the last six months. But its legacy drugs, in general, are being hit hard, although oncology drug Faslodex is growing by about 20 percent or more in the last half, and its cardiovascular drugs Brilinta and Farxiga are growing as well, by 49 percent and 64 percent in the last quarter, respectively.

But overall the company’s total revenues were down by 3 percent, and reported earnings per share (EPS) dropped 45 percent.

As part of restructuring and efforts at cost cutting, AstraZeneca has killed six pipeline programs, mostly from the MedImmune biologics division. The programs include a Phase III combination trial of Epanova (omega-3-carboxylic acids), for triglyceride levels, and Farxiga (dapagliflozin) for liver disease NASH.

It is also halting a late-stage GOLD study of Lynparza (olaparib) in second-line gastric cancer. Lynparza is currently marketed for ovarian cancer. It is also ending several New Medical Entities (NME), including MEDI0639, in solid tumors, a combination trial for a PD-L1 drug, durvalumab, and MEDI6383, both in solid tumors. And lastly, MEDI7836, which is an IL-13 mAB YTE asthma drug, is being halted.

Otherwise, in general, AstraZeneca appears to have a very robust pipeline. “Alongside positive results for our first potential Respiratory biologic medicine, benralizumab, and for Tagrisso in second-line lung cancer, we are encouraged by the rapid patient recruitment in our Immuno-Oncology durva/treme combination programs,” said Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “This strong scientific momentum is set to continue, in particular where we anticipate key Immuno-Oncology data.”

Although the company’s reports were decidedly mixed, investors apparently liked some of the positive results regarding early sales of new products. Company jumped from $31.54 on July 27 to a current trading price of $33.33.

Analysts are projecting dropping group sales and profits for the rest of this year and 2017, before turning around in 2018. Tagrisso, for lung cancer, had quarterly sales of $92 million, exceeding expectations.

Soriot indicates that AstraZeneca’s future in immuno-oncology is very bright. “Over the next 12 months the profile of this company will change,” he said in a press conference. “We will start getting very serious proof points and hopefully people will see that our plan is working.”

In addition, there are new rumors that Swiss-based Novartis AG (NVS) is interested in acquiring AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca’s current market value is about $78 billion. Novartis’s is about $217 billion. If Novartis is indeed interested, it’s likely based on the strength of AstraZeneca’s immuno-oncology pipeline.

Immuno-oncology is a very hot and promising area, but there’s significant competition from Roche , Bristol-Myers Squibb , and Merck & Co. , all of whom already have immuno-oncology products on the market.

Soriot has said that he expects the company to improve sales to $45 billion by 2023, compared to $26 billion last year. Analysts are skeptical. That target was first announced in 2014 while AstraZeneca was fending off the Pfizer hostile takeover bid that ultimately failed.

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