Wednesday, 18 October, 2017

AstraZeneca's Imfinzi Drug Combo Fails in Phase III Lung Cancer Trial

The news comes amid speculation over the future of Astra Zeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot The news comes amid speculation over the future of Astra Zeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot
Mae Harvey | 27 July, 2017, 17:59

Shares in Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca plunged as much as 17 percent Thursday after a new lung cancer treatment proved less successful than the company had hoped.

The shares slumped 15.2% to £43.26, dropping to the bottom of the FTSE 100, which fell 10 points, or 0.1%, to 7,442. "The company still has a number of other interesting pipelines and recently launched assets and durvalumab (Imfinzi) have already had success in other settings (Stage III unresectable NSCLC and bladder) and could still show benefits in other indications including head & neck, SCLC, breast and pancreatic cancer", the note said.

The trial will continue to assess two additional primary endpoints of overall survival (OS) for Imfinzi monotherapy and OS for the Imfinzi plus tremelimumab combination. Also in lung cancer, we're delighted with the strong results from the FLAURA trial for Tagrisso, which goes from strength to strength.

AstraZeneca (AZ) has tried to put a fearless face on today's news that its immunotherapy combination is unlikely to be a contender in lung cancer. With the failure of Mystic, at least on the progression-free survival endpoints, now likely to be fully factored into expectations, the dividend may now look less safe and we expect some investors will start to question its long-term sustainability, despite prior reassurances from management. I'm proud to be the CEO of this company and I'm looking forward to continuing on our journey ahead. 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.

Soriot declined to comment directly on the "rumours", but stressed: "I'm not a quitter".

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Bristol-Myers Squibb famously learned that lesson the hard way, pushing to test its flagship checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) in lung cancer patients with 1% or greater PD-L1 expression.

The combination was seen as AstraZeneca's ticket to catch up to leaders in immunotherapy, a new way of treating cancer that unleashes the power of the body's own immune system.

The negative results from the so-called MYSTIC study are a stinging setback to AstraZeneca's ambition to leapfrog over its cancer immunotherapy rivals. AstraZeneca certainly seems to agree, announcing alongside its statement on MYSTIC that it would join up with Merck in an $8.5 billion cancer partnership.

AstraZeneca reported the findings along with second-quarter financial results that were less than rosy as the loss of patent protection for two blockbuster drugs hurt sales.

The company's new oncology products produced sales of $537 million in the first half of 2017 (up from $251 million in the same period last year), led by targeted lung cancer drug Tagrisso and Lynparza. Analysts polled by Zacks Investment Research forecast adjusted earnings of 41 cents per share and $5.05 billion in sales.

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