| LONDON, July 31
LONDON, July 31 AstraZeneca is
accelerating its push into cancer immunotherapy, with plans to
test a key experimental drug in new tumour types.
The company is seen as No. 4 in a race to develop the first
drug in a new class that fights cancer by unleashing the body's
immune system, behind rivals Roche, Merck & Co
and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
But its MEDI4736 medicine is still viewed as a highly
promising agent, both on its own and in combination with other
AstraZeneca said on Thursday it would launch a pivotal
clinical trial programme with MEDI4736 in head and neck cancer
this year, in addition to ongoing tests in lung cancer, and was
also looking at expanding tests into other cancer types.
"There is the potential we would announce an additional
tumour type beyond head and neck and non-small cell lung cancer
by the end of this year," head of medicines development Briggs
Morrison told analysts in a post-results conference call.
MEDI4736 is part of a closely watched class of drugs known
as anti-PD-L1 therapies, which block a tumour's ability to evade
the immune system's defences.
AstraZeneca said it would present further data looking at
MEDI4736 in lung cancer, as well as early results for head and
neck cancer, in September at the annual meeting of the European
Society for Medical Oncology.
Analysts said the decision to study MEDI4736 in head and
neck cancer made sense, given encouraging results with a similar
Merck drug for the condition reported in June.
The commercial promise of MEDI4736 was flagged by
AstraZeneca during its recent $118 billion takeover battle with
Pfizer, when it argued that the drug - used on its own
and in combination with other therapies - could potentially
generate annual sales of $6.5 billion.
In recent years, the British drugmaker has become best known
for its cholesterol drug Crestor and its ulcer and heartburn
pill Nexium. But it has a long history in oncology, having
broken new ground decades ago in developing tamoxifen and other
hormonal therapies. It also produced one of the first "targeted"
cancer drugs, Iressa.
AstraZeneca earlier raised its sales and earnings forecasts
for 2014 after second-quarter sales and earnings both beat
expectations, helped by several one-off factors.
(Editing by David Holmes)