AstraZeneca caps its big win in lung cancer with positive survival data for Imfinzi — and what a relief it is

AstraZeneca capped its big win on the landmark PACIFIC study today with the news that its PD-L1 checkpoint Imfinzi delivered a statistically significant improvement in overall survival for a key segment of the lung cancer market. 

Pascal Soriot

The OS score during an interim analysis is for patients whose stage III non-small cell lung cancer hasn’t progressed after chemoradiation and whose tumors can’t be surgically removed. The data here — specifics will follow at a conference — will help AstraZeneca consolidate a crucial lead spot for itself, which AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has boasted will put the pharma giant in the lead for “half the pool in lung cancer.”

The FDA has already come through with an OK for AstraZeneca here, underscoring that regulators aren’t waiting for every i to be dotted and every t crossed before getting new cancer drugs to patients and doctors.

Dave Fredrickson

The importance of the very real success here for Soriot is hard to overstate. The CEO has to capitalize on advances for the cancer drug portfolio to prove to investors that new drugs can finally provide the financial turnaround that AstraZeneca has to have as the Crestor franchise melts away. PACIFIC is blazing a path for a would-be blockbuster that can let Soriot prove that.

Just a few days ago Dave Fredrickson, who heads up the oncology business unit for AstraZeneca, told analysts that PACIFIC had swiftly opened up a valuable market segment demonstrating some powerful potential. He noted:

This has resulted in a true inflection point for Imfinzi with sales now at $62 million in the first quarter and really the overwhelming majority of these coming from the lung cancer indication. As you saw from a slide that Pascal showed in February when we launched, we had about 3,500 patient infusions per month and you could see that we’ve now doubled in the most recent month to 7,000 patient infusions per month, really showing that the underlying patient demand is the driver of these sales. 

Sean Bohen

The success in this segment gives AstraZeneca’s cancer team added credibility for understanding how to score a strategic advance in an intensely competitive field, with Merck and Bristol-Myers tussling for dominance in frontline lung cancer. Coming on the heels of the embarrassing first-round MYSTIC failure, it also offered an encouraging endorsement for the company’s R&D competence.

AstraZeneca CMO Sean Bohen said: “The readout of positive overall survival data at the interim analysis of the PACIFIC trial provides additional compelling evidence of the clinical benefit that Imfinzi can offer patients in this earlier stage of lung cancer.”

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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