(Corrects typo in headline to read 'AstraZeneca' and not
By Deena Beasley
CHICAGO, June 3 AstraZeneca Plc, in the
headlines for spurning buyout offers from Pfizer Inc,
aims to regain prominence in oncology with compelling trial
results and a splashy exhibit booth at the world's largest
meeting of cancer doctors.
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.
In a presentation during the American Society of Clinical
Oncology meeting in Chicago, Chief Executive Officer Pascal
Soriot said AstraZeneca was progressing faster than he had
expected with its cancer drug pipeline - an asset that figured
prominently in its decision to rebuff Pfizer.
"We remain resolute in our ambition to bring these
next-generation cancer medicines to patients as fast as
possible," Soriot said in an investor presentation late on
Wall Street analysts said data at the ASCO conference, which
started on Friday and will end on Tuesday, provided evidence
that AstraZeneca has made progress. A 2 percent rise in the
company's London-listed shares since the meeting began suggests
no major disappointments.
"This is more like confirmation than anything
revolutionary," said Les Funtleyder, a consulting partner with
U.K.-based Bluecloud Healthcare consulting firm.
Pfizer walked away from a takeover bid on May 26. The U.S.
drugmaker can be invited back to talks by AstraZeneca, Britain's
second-largest pharmaceuticals company, in three months or make
a fresh approach on its own in six months under UK rules.
AstraZeneca became known in recent years more for
cholesterol drug Crestor and ulcer pill Nexium, which are both
due to lose patent protection soon.
The company, which seeks a return to a leading role in
oncology, broke new ground decades ago by developing tamoxifen
and other hormonal therapies that are still widely used to treat
breast cancer and prostate cancer.
AstraZeneca also developed one of the first "targeted"
cancer drugs, Iressa. It was pulled from the U.S. market after a
large clinical trial showed no survival benefit in lung cancer.
The company's prominent front-row exhibit booth at the ASCO
meeting had an airy space-age feel with videos on monitors
describing its experimental drugs. Long lines formed for free
"It's a bigger booth than AstraZeneca has had in the past,"
said Briggs Morrison, the company's chief medical officer. "Our
intent is to make people know how serious we are."
In all, AstraZeneca presented data from over 40 scientific
abstracts for experimental cancer drugs. It said that one of its
most closely watched therapies, MEDI4736, may be safer than some
rivals, allowing it to be used at higher doses in combination
with other drugs. AstraZeneca acquired the drug in its 2007
takeover of U.S.-based MedImmune.
A study funded by the National Cancer Institute showed a
combination of two AstraZeneca drugs - olaparib, which blocks a
cell-repair enzyme known as PARP, and cediranib, which prevents
formation of blood vessels needed by tumors - extended the
length of time that ovarian cancer patients lived without
Both drugs had been effectively shelved by AstraZeneca after
initial clinical trials produced underwhelming results.
"If that happened today, we would never have walked away,"
said Bahija Jallal, AstraZeneca's executive vice president,
global medicines development. "The culture today is to follow
Leerink analyst Seamus Fernandez called the ovarian cancer
data the biggest upside surprise at the conference, noting that
the drug combination might eventually replace chemotherapy,
which would double olaparib's potential sales.
MEDI4736 is part of a closely watched class of drugs known
as anti-PD-L1 therapies, which block a tumor's ability to evade
the immune system's defenses. A small study in lung cancer
patients who tested positive for PD-L1, presented on Tuesday,
showed that 39 percent responded to MEDI4736.
AstraZeneca expects that more data looking at a combination
of MEDI4736 and tremelimumab in lung cancer will be presented in
September at the annual meeting of the European Society for
Investors are eager to see whether those results improve
upon disappointing lung cancer data from Bristol-Myers, whose
combination of melanoma treatment Yervoy and PD-L1 drug
nivolumab produced lower-than-expected response rates and a high
rate of side effects.
(Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Michele
Gershberg and Jan Paschal)