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New cancer drugs can’t quite plug the revenue hole at AZ

Overall sales fell 5% to $10.33bn

AZ

Sales of AstraZeneca’s trio of new cancer drugs rocketed in the first half of the year, but were unable to fully offset the lingering effects of patent expiries on former blockbusters.

Ovarian and breast cancer drug Lynparza (olaparib), Tagrisso (osimertinib) for lung cancer and new immuno-oncology therapy Imfinzi (durvalumab) collectively drove oncology sales at the group up 42% to $2.66bn – overtaking respiratory as its biggest therapeutic category.

Overall sales fell 5% to $10.33bn, however, thanks to generic competition taking another chunk out of cholesterol drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) sales, particularly in Europe and Japan. There was a 2% gain in the second quarter which suggests AZ may finally be able to fulfil its pledge of a return to growth this year.

PARP inhibitor Lynparza’s new approval in breast cancer and shift earlier in the treatment pathway in ovarian cancer drove sales up 124% in the first half to $269m, aided by its launch in Japan, while Tagrisso grew 82% to $760m on the back of greater first-line use in EGFR-positive non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

There was also a welcome surge in of PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi to $184m – $122m of that coming in the second quarter – coming mainly from the drug’s recent approval in the US as a maintenance therapy to prevent relapse  in patients with NSCLC. It is the first checkpoint inhibitor to be approved in that indication, which analysts have suggested could be a $2bn market in its own right, and is due for an EMA verdict soon.

Other bright spots for AZ included the continued growth if antiplatelet drug Brilinta (ticagrelor), up 18% to $609m, diabetes drug Farxiga (dapagliflozin) which leaped 36% to $639m, and new asthma drug Fasenra (benralizumab) although overall respiratory sales were flat in the first half at $2.41bn.

AZ’s decision to price IL-5 inhibitor Fasenra below rival products from GlaxoSmithKline and Teva seems to have helped get the drug moving quickly with sales reaching $86m in the first half and $65m in the second quarter, although its recent failure in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has dramatically lowered the ceiling on peak sales.

Emerging markets – another of AZ’s priority growth platforms – performed well with a 10% gain to $3.42bn driven in the main by a surge in China that was underpinned by the launch of Tagrisso.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot said the company’s “rich pipeline and sharp commercial focus make us confident that we have in place the right conditions for our return to growth this year.” Investors seemed pleased with the performance, with shares rising 2.7% this morning.

There was one blip on the pipeline radar for AZ however, as it revealed in its interim update that thyroid cancer candidate selumetinib had failed a phase III trial in thyroid cancer. The MEK inhibitor had previously failed in a late-stage lung cancer study.

Article by
Phil Taylor

26th July 2018

From: Sales

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