AstraZeneca shares down as its Mystic lung cancer drug trial falters

Lucy Hill
July 28, 2017

The company further noted that although not formally tested, Imfinzi monotherapy would not have met a pre-specified threshold of progression-free survival.

"While the results from the MYSTIC trial for progression free survival in first-line Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer compared with standard of care are disappointing, the trial was created to assess overall survival and we look forward to evaluating the remaining primary endpoints of overall survival for both mono- and combination therapy", said Executive Vice President, Global Medicines Development and Chief Medical Officer Sean Bohen. Uncertainty about the MYSTIC outcome had been heightened recently by speculation that Soriot might be considering a highly paid new job as head of Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

AstraZeneca along with its global biologics R&D research arm MedImmune announced that their immune-oncology combo-treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, did not meet the primary endpoint in a late-stage study.

The so-called Mystic study was the industry's most anticipated clinical experiment this year and the news saw the shares fall 16 percent, wiping some $14 billion off AstraZeneca's value.

Astra boss Pascal Soriot, who was last week forced to deny rumours he was leaving the company and is in the midst of working on a turnaround of the pharma firm had said a failure of the study would be a "substantial setback". He didn't offer the firmest of denials, but said he was "committed" to AstraZeneca and was not a "quitter". Sales came in at $4.9m, down 10 per cent on the same period previous year, and earnings per share were 87 cents per share, slightly ahead of the 80 cents expected. "I'm proud to be the CEO of this company and I look forward to continuing on our journey ahead and continuing to lead the incredible team. the only thing I can tell you is I am here today".

But Bristol-Myers Squibb fell 5 percent, as investors anxious about its experimental immunotherapy treatment that is similar to AstraZeneca's combination.

It has already shown in a separate trial called PACIFIC that durvalumab alone can help some patients with earlier-stage disease.

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Durvalumab, which AstraZeneca flagged in 2014 as having annual sales potential of $6.5 billion, is central to its drive into oncology - but it is not the only asset. Soriot said this put it on track for eventual sales of more than $4 billion a year.

That deal gives Merck rights to 50% of revenues earned from AstraZeneca's PARP inhibitor Lynparza (olaparib) and another experimental treatment (if approved) - a likely hedge that AstraZeneca will be less able to carve out a larger space for itself in cancer without Imfinzi as backbone of its portfolio.

AstraZeneca will net US$1.6bn from Merck upfront and the overall figure could reach as high as US$8.5bn subject to certain milestones.

"In our view, the group should make every effort to capitalise on their strategic tie-up with Merck announced today and strong progress in the trials for Tagrisso".

The blue-chip drugmaker separately updated investors on its interim performance this morning, posting an eight-percent drop in second-quarter revenue to $5 billion, noting that the residual effects of patent losses had impacted product sales.

Total revenue declined by 10 percent to US$5.05 billion as sales of the cholesterol drug Crestor fell by 40 percent to US$560 million.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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