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Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca seek tonic from key drug trials
March 1, 2016 / 2:30 PM / 2 years ago

Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca seek tonic from key drug trials

A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble

LONDON (Reuters) - Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca, two drugmakers whose financial outlooks disappointed investors last month, are both hoping for a boost in the coming weeks from results of two closely watched clinical trials.

AstraZeneca wants to prove its blood-thinner Brilinta can help stroke patients, in addition to those with heart problems, while Novo aims to showcase the cardiovascular benefits of its blockbuster diabetes treatment Victoza.

While positive outcomes are not guaranteed, industry analysts believe AstraZeneca may have the easier task.

Its so-called SOCRATES trial is assessing whether Brilinta can do better than aspirin, the current standard of care, in preventing recurrent attacks in the 90 days after patients suffer a stroke.

History suggests it has a good chance, since Sanofi’s now off-patent drug Plavix previously showed limited benefit in stroke and Brilinta is more potent. The main risk is that Brilinta might cause more dangerous bleeding.

A positive result would boost consensus forecasts for Brilinta, which currently stand at an annual $1.8 billion for 2020, according to Thomson Reuters Cortellis.

That is well short of AstraZeneca’s own projection of $3.5 billion by 2023, but Deutsche Bank analysts believe the addressable market for Brilinta could double if SOCRATES and another study in peripheral artery disease (PAD), due in the second half of 2016, both hit their goals.

“We started with the heart but this could be the year when we go beyond the coronary setting by addressing the head and strokes, and also open another chapter with the limbs through addressing the possible treatment of PAD,” said Ludovic Helfgott, head of AstraZeneca’s Brilinta business.

AstraZeneca has so far only promised stroke results sometime in the first half of 2016. However, its study was due to complete last month, according to clinicaltrials.gov, suggesting initial headline findings may emerge relatively soon.

Results from Novo’s cardiovascular trial known as LEADER, the Danish firm’s largest clinical study to date, are due before the end of March.

Novo is under pressure to prove its drug can cut the danger of heart attacks and strokes, after the unprecedented success of Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Jardiance pill in slashing deaths in diabetics with heart risk.

Chief Science Officer Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen said in an interview in November that Victoza, which sold $2.6 billion in 2015, almost certainly does have heart benefits. But he’s not 100 percent sure if these will be apparent in the relatively sick patients enrolled in LEADER.

Editing by Susan Thomas

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