Drug Development

Soriot’s $3.5B Brilinta dream is dashed by yet another big trial flop for AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

Four years ago, when Pascal Soriot stepped to the helm of the faltering AstraZeneca, he based his turnaround plan on a vow that the pharma giant could transform Brilinta into a blockbuster franchise, eventually promising investors $3.5 billion in annual revenue.

Now, after its second consecutive setback in the clinic this year, Soriot is finally backing off that number.

This time, the drug failed to demonstrate a benefit over generic Plavix (clopidogrel) for peripheral artery disease. Back in March, the heart drug flopped in a large stroke study, unable to prove that it could beat aspirin. And Soriot can chalk up those expensive studies to proving Brilinta’s serious deficiencies.

“We don’t believe the goal of $3.5 billion is attainable. I think it would be unrealistic to believe that,” Ludovic Helfgott, head of AstraZeneca’s Brilinta business, told Reuters.

Brilinta brought in a total of $619 million last year after disappointing analysts repeatedly with lower-than-expected quarterly revenue.

Ludovic Helfgott, AstraZeneca

Ludovic Helfgott, AstraZeneca

Heart studies aren’t cheap. AstraZeneca recruited 13,500 patients for the EUCLID study, and it had enrolled close to that number for the earlier SOCRATES trial.

AstraZeneca has experienced a rash of serious setbacks over the course of the year, falling behind where it needed to stride forward. Brodalumab proved a disappointment, triggering a sale to Valeant at a discount. The same fate awaited lesinurad. And selumetinib recently failed – not for the first time – in lung cancer.

Each setback has spurred a fresh review of Soriot’s 2014 promise to prod revenue to $45 billion a year by 2023, which increasingly looks like a pipe dream.

The pharma giant has made some progress on the cancer front, but is still slowly advancing its anti-PD-L1 program as the fourth or fifth checkpoint likely to hit the market.

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