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AZ says dropping MedImmune will help ‘streamline’ its R&D

Will also drop other candidates that haven’t hit the mark

MedImmune

The demise of the MedImmune brand, which has driven AstraZeneca’s biologics pipeline for more than a decade, will strengthen the group’s R&D and make it more agile, say executives.

The Gaithersburg, Maryland-headquartered company is the source of a chunk of AZ’s biologics pipeline, including cancer immunotherapy Imfinzi (durvalumab) and severe asthma drug Fasenra (benralizumab) that were both highlighted in the group’s fourth-quarter results, but its focus no longer aligns with AZ’s new R&D structure.

AZ said in a statement that “while the MedImmune name and logo will no longer be used, a proud legacy of scientific innovation remains, as does the entrepreneurial culture that MedImmune has stood for over its 30-year history”.

According to CEO Pascal Soriot – who dismissed the persistent rumours of his departure from AZ as ‘fake news’ in comments to analysts and reporters – the change to the structure is “designed to further integrate research and development and accelerate decision-making and the launches of new medicines, consolidating what we believe is already one of the most exciting and productive pipelines in the industry”.

It could be argued that the absorption of MedImmune was almost inevitable given AZ’s new R&D format – which splits its activities into one box named cancer and another named biopharma covering cardiovascular, respiratory, and renal/metabolism projects – as the division straddled the two.

AZ’s new cancer chief José Baselga (below), said on the company’s fourth-quarter results call that the separation between large molecules and small molecules in AZ’s former R&D structure “doesn't make any sense” when it comes to oncology, and particularly immunotherapy where the trend is moving towards combination regimens.

José Baselga

He also said that it will be important to be agile at reading the signals coming out of AZ’s “tremendous pipeline” and moving quickly ahead with combinations with the highest returns on investment, while the blurring of the classical phase 1, 2 and 3 development stages is also an emerging variable best tackled within one dedicated group.

Nevertheless, as MedImmune has operated as a semi-independent unit within AZ – in much the same way as Genentech within Roche and Sanofi’s Genzyme – the decision raises questions about how it will respond to the change. And in particular, whether its entrepreneurial culture could be lost, potential disruption given some MedImmune executives have already headed for the exit, and the future of its external collaborations.

“We believe our MedImmune team has done a fantastic job and there's no reason for them to stop doing this really,” said Soriot, adding: “there is a level of excitement…to come together as one oncology team across the board.”

He insisted that in reality “the reorganisation doesn't change…the way we're going to manage our pipeline”.

“These projects actually fit our core therapy areas and we'll develop and market them ourselves. If not, we will partner them find a way to bring them to patients one way or another.”

Pipeline casualties

AZ’s return to growth has been driven by its new cancer drugs, but the fourth-quarter presentation revealed an array of R&D programmes that haven’t hit the mark and will be dropped. The list is headed by the phase 3 MYSTIC and EAGLE trials of Imfinzi and experimental CTLA4 inhibitor tremelimumab, which both missed survival endpoint readouts.

Earlier-stage programmes that have been culled include three immuno-oncology candidates from MedImmune, namely anti-OX40 antibody MEDI0562, TLR 7/8 agonist MEDI9197, and GITR agonist fusion protein MEDI1873, all of which were being tested for solid tumours.

Article by
Phil Taylor

15th February 2019

From: Sales

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