AstraZeneca fights back in cancer with new hires, fast drug status

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

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca hired two senior scientists to bolster its cancer drug work on Monday, signaling confidence in its oncology portfolio despite last week’s big setback in a lung cancer clinical trial.

The company said Jean-Charles Soria, previously a professor at South-Paris University, had joined the MedImmune biotech unit as head of oncology innovative medicines, while Geoffrey Kim would lead work on late-stage immunotherapy drug combinations.

Kim was most recently at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where he worked on the evaluation and regulation of medicines for a variety of cancers.

“Our ability to attract these recognized experts in the fast-developing field of immuno-oncology speaks to our exciting pipeline of innovative cancer treatments,” said MedImmune head Bahija Jallal.

AstraZeneca also announced its immunotherapy drug Imfinzi had been granted “breakthrough” designation by U.S. regulators for treating non-metastatic lung cancer following the success of the so-called Pacific trial.

The FDA decision paves the way for a speedy regulatory review and confirms the drug’s potential in earlier stage disease, despite its initial failure in the key Mystic trial, which targeted the bigger advanced cancer market.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by David Clarke