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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of the news in brief

AstraZeneca setback
AstraZeneca faces a two-year delay to the launch of CytoFab, an experimental polyclonal antibody for the treatment of sepsis. Following discussions with US, EU and Japanese regulators, the company agreed to ìexpand the development planî for CytoFab with a second intermediate phase II trial in 2007, instead of launching hoped-for late-stage phase III trials. Analysts estimate annual sales for CytoFab could reach more than $1bn when it is finally launched in 2011. This setback for AstraZeneca, which follows just one week after disappointing trial results forced the company to halt development of its investigational stroke drug NXY-059, points to a more cautious approach being adopted by regulators after the Northwick Park trial on an experimental antibody this year left six healthy volunteers seriously ill.

Sales slump for sanofi-aventis
Generic competition in the US and a health-spending squeeze in core European markets have led to disappointing third-quarter sales for sanofi-aventis. The company recorded an 11.6 per cent drop in net profit, although cost controls helped limit the decline, ahead of forecasts, at Ä1.7bn ($2.2bn). While the company has maintained its full-year guidance of 2 per cent growth in earnings per share, shares in the company have fallen by 2.8 per cent to Ä66.60 ($85.26). With four of its top-selling drugs under pressure from generic competition, the company had pinned its hopes on a successful launch this year of its anti-obesity drug, Acomplia. However, analysts believe this could be delayed for several months.

Novartis invests in China
According to CEO, Daniel Vasella, China will be among Novartis' top ten markets by 2010, when annual drug sales in the country could reach $25bn. Pharma sales in China have grown at 20 per cent annually over the past five years but have slowed to nearer 10 per cent in 2005 on the back of changes in hospital admittance patterns and a crackdown on government corruption. However, Novartis is confident the market will return to double-digit growth over the next few years and has announced plans to build a $100m R&D centre in Shanghai for the discovery of medicines to treat cancers caused by infections, which are endemic in China and Asia.

Wyeth in $212.5m deal
Wyeth has signed a $212.5m deal with Belgian biotech Ablynx under which the US group will be given exclusive worldwide rights to use Ablynx nanobody technology to develop a new generation of anti-TNF treatments for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Ablynx nanobodies are produced by cloning DNA sequences from llamas, and could potentially be administered by mouth rather than injection. Under the agreement, Ablynx will receive an initial payment, research support and milestone payments, and will be entitled to royalties on any future sales.

Extended profile for MabThera
Global sales for Roche's top-selling cancer drug, MabThera, are expected to top $1bn a year in the autoimmune market following its approval for use in rheumatoid arthritis, and its possible application in other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. The company is confident that MabThera, known as Rituxan in the US, will gain approval in these other disease areas as its safety profile has already been proven in treating several types of cancer. Current treatments for rheumatoid arthritis involve anti-inflammatory drugs or anti-TNF therapies. However, as a third of patients do not respond to these drugs there is clear unmet need. Last year global sales for MabThera reached SwFr4bn ($3.19bn).

30th September 2008


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