* Pays $20 mln upfront for rights to Chi-Med cancer drug
* Signs option on new type of diabetes pill from Astellas
* Follows double dose of bad news on AZ pipeline on Tuesday
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Dec 21 AstraZeneca is
placing new bets on drug research by signing deals with two
Asian companies, just one day after suffering a double setback
for two of its most important pipeline assets.
Britain's second biggest drugmaker said on Wednesday it had
struck a global deal to co-develop a novel cancer treatment from
Hutchison China MediTech and bought options on a
potential new class of diabetes pills from Astellas Pharma
The deals go some way to bolster AstraZeneca's pipeline of
experimental medicines in two priority areas for the company,
although the products are still at an early -- and risky --
phase of development.
Their addition to the portfolio will do little to offset
investor concerns about AstraZeneca's increasingly fragile
pipeline of new drugs, which was further damaged on Tuesday by
high-profile setbacks in cancer and depression.
AstraZeneca is taking $381.5 million in charges -- pushing
2011 profits to the lower end of its forecast range -- after
dropping olaparib for ovarian cancer and announcing a second
unsuccessful late-stage test for new antidepressant TC-5214.
It can ill-afford such failures, since it has few other
products in late-stage development, with the exception of a new
pill for rheumatoid arthritis, as it faces looming patent losses
on blockbusters like Seroquel for schizophrenia and Nexium for
heartburn and ulcers.
Its top-selling cholesterol fighter Crestor also has a tough
time ahead, due to the arrival of cheap generic copies of
Pfizer's market-leading drug Lipitor in the key U.S.
market last month.
AstraZeneca will pay Chi-Med $20 million upfront for the
global licensing, co-development and commercialisation agreement
covering volitinib -- an inhibitor of the c-Met receptor
tyrosine kinase that is about to enter initial Phase I clinical
Hong Kong-based Chi-Med will get up to $120 million if the
cancer drug is developed successfully, plus possible
"significant" future commercial sale milestones and up to
double-digit percentage royalties on net sales.
The deal with Japan's Astellas involves AstraZeneca paying
an unspecified upfront fee for options to acquire PSN821 and
PSN842 from Astellas -- two experimental treatments for type 2
diabetes that are in mid-stage Phase II clinical trials and
preclinical development respectively.
Both the Astellas products belong to a class of compound
known as G protein-coupled receptor GPR119 agonists.