Tuesday, 24 October, 2017

AstraZeneca share price nosedives as key drug trial disappoints

Cancer Images Astra's Mystic lung cancer drug study results disappoint
Jeannie Matthews | 28 July, 2017, 00:29

Although not formally tested, durvalumab monotherapy would not have met a prespecified threshold of PFS benefit compared with chemotherapy in this patient population, according to an AstraZeneca-issued press release.

"While the results from the MYSTIC trial for progression free survival in first-line Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer compared with standard of care are disappointing, the trial was created to assess overall survival and we look forward to evaluating the remaining primary endpoints of overall survival for both mono- and combination therapy", said Executive Vice President, Global Medicines Development and Chief Medical Officer Sean Bohen.

There has been increasing speculation about the Mystic trial in recent months, with reports from an Israeli newspaper suggesting that AZ CEO Pascal Soriot was set to leave the company for Teva; he has since denied these reports.

AstraZeneca's pain is likely to be good news for Merck & Co, the only manufacturer on the market today with an immunotherapy treatment for previously untreated lung cancer.

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.

"I'm not a quitter", Soriot said. He added: "The only thing I tell you is I'm here today" and "proud to lead AstraZeneca". The company has been seeking to develop new treatments to fight off competition from generic drugmakers.

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.

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AstraZeneca has also established a strategic oncology collaboration with Merck to study cancer drug combinations using its drug Lynparza, which is already approved for ovarian cancer but could have much wider uses when combined with immunotherapy.

AstraZeneca - a relative latecomer in immunotherapy - has been pinning its hopes on a combination approach for advanced lung cancer, after already showing that durvalumab alone can help in earlier-stage disease.

Durvalumab, which AstraZeneca flagged in 2014 as having annual sales potential of $6.5 billion, is key to its drive into oncology. Soriot said this put it on track for eventual sales of more than $4 billion a year. 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 is now at a crossroads", said Joe Walters, senior fund manager at Royal London Asset Management, a top-30 shareholder, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The blue-chip drugmaker separately updated investors on its interim performance this morning, posting an eight-percent drop in second-quarter revenue to $5 billion, noting that the residual effects of patent losses had impacted product sales.

AstraZeneca has reiterated its guidance for 2017, with it anticipating a low to mid single-digit percentage decline in total revenue.

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