Market, R&D

AstraZeneca sweeps out a PhIII asthma flop, a PD-1 drug and some other rejects as Q4 tally disappoints

AstraZeneca disposed a late-stage asthma flop and a few other early-stage assets this morning as it faced a growing chorus of criticism over its persistently weak revenue figures.

Researchers hit the eject button on tralokinumab in Q4, which went 0-for-3 in Phase III for uncontrolled asthma.

The failure here highlights a common problem with late-stage programs. The drug failed a Phase IIb study, but investigators wanted go after a niche after highlighting evidence of success in the subgroup analysis. That led them right into a blind alley. The IL-13 group also includes lebrikizumab, which came up with mixed data for Roche before the pharma giant sold it off.

AstraZeneca, meanwhile, already dickered away the IPF rights to tralokinumab. Another asthma drug — AZD9898, which had been in-licensed from Sweden’s Orexo — didn’t make the cut either.

The quarterly heave-ho also claimed an IGF-I and IGF-II inhibitor for breast cancer dubbed MEDI-573.

In a final segment of the pipeline review marked “completed projects/divestitures” is MEDI-0680 (AMP-514), a PD-1 checkpoint picked upon its $500 million deal — $225 million in cash — for Amplimmune as well as the DPP-4 drug Kombiglyze. The drug was swept up in 2013 during a frenzy of deals CEO Pascal Soriot struck after he took the helm.

These quarterly discards mark a dispiriting end to 2017. While Soriot has spotlighted signs of an H2 turnaround in the numbers today, analysts have become acutely aware of how the company has relied on partnering or selling off assets to bolster weak revenue numbers. Such deals accounted for about 10% of its $22.5 billion in 2017 revenue, and its stock slid this morning on a disappointing profit outlook for 2018 — despite Soriot’s promise to finally get product sales growth.

Three years ago, the CEO had promised to achieve a turnaround in sales in 2017, while also setting a $45 billion bar for revenue — twice the total for last year.

All those promises are coming back to haunt Soriot now, as some disappointed investors had said it would when AstraZeneca spurned Pfizer’s takeover bid.

Success this year will require a few more big gains, particularly on the cancer side of the business, where despite the big failure for the first stage of MYSTIC AstraZeneca has still managed to come up with its biggest scores.

But it will have to revive hopes as the company is severely cash constrained, limiting its options.

Image: Pascal Soriot. Getty Images

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

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