Drug Development, People

After taking a PhIII thrashing, AstraZeneca comes out swinging with breakthrough titles, new cancer hires

Pascal Soriot, CEO, AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca $AZN may be down, but it’s not out.

Sent reeling over the failure of its first big primary endpoint for a checkpoint combo of durvalumab and tremelimumab late last week, the pharma giant reports it just scored the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for acalabrutinib as a treatment for mantle cell lymphoma, its second breakthrough title in two days.

Jean-Charles Soria

The BTD for acalabrutinib came fast on the heels of the breakthrough title for durvalumab for unresectable non-small cell lung cancer whose disease has not progressed following platinum-based chemoradiation therapy.

The BTD title is worth a lot more than bragging rights. The FDA has proven that it will stand by its commitment to speed along cancer drugs over the past few years — transforming development timelines. And right now, AstraZeneca needs all the help it can get.

Speaking of help, the pharma giant added that it hired a couple of top scientists for its oncology team.

Jean-Charles Soria is giving up his job as a professor at South-Paris University (he was also a cancer specialist at Institut Gustave Roussy) to run the oncology innovative medicines group at AstraZeneca, while FDA vet Geoffrey Kim will helm the combination work being done in immunotherapies.

AstraZeneca has been hit with an exodus of top talent over the last year. As reported last week, Tony Ho left the company’s oncology group, where he was head of oncology integration and innovation. And now we know today that he’s landed as the head of R&D for CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP, where he will be focused on gene editing tech. I noted last week that with well-heeled biotechs growing rapidly, funded by a burgeoning amount of venture capital, and pharmas like GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly overhauling research work and pipelines, the already intense competition for top scientific talent can only heat up.

With hundreds of new studies in immuno-oncology now playing out and billions of dollars on the line, cancer experts in particular will be much sought after.

We’re seeing that trend play out on a real-time basis now.

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