As sales flag, AstraZeneca pins hopes on oncology success
- AstraZeneca expects revenue to continue to fall in 2017, forecasting a low to mid single-digit decline in top-line revenue as the effects of generic competition on former mainstay brands like Crestor (rosuvastatin) outweigh growth from the British pharma's newer drugs.
- Sales of Crestor fell 53% to $631 million in the fourth quarter, compared to the same period a year previous. Slipping sales for the top-selling statin had been expected, and AstraZeneca has been active in off-loading non-core brands over the past year to help lessen the blow.
- Company CEO Pascal Soriot expressed optimism, however, that 2017 could be an "inflection point" in the return to long-term growth. Securing strong results from trials testing AstraZeneca's closely watched cancer immunotherapy durvalumab will be a crucial test of that optimism.
As its top-selling drugs age and lose patent exclusivity, AstraZeneca has focused its efforts more narrowly on three core therapeutic areas: oncology, cardiovascular and metabolic disease, and respiratory disease.
Of the three, oncology has received the most investment recently as AstraZeneca moves forward with development of durvalumab as well as with expansion studies for marketed cancer agents like Tagrisso (osimertinib).
"We continue to invest in R&D to support the pipeline," Soriot said, speaking on an earnings call with analysts Thursday morning. "We have reached an inflection point as we near the end of the patent cliff. The pipeline is starting to deliver, and R&D is passing the baton to the commercial teams. This will be an exciting time as the commercial teams can start launching new products rather than defending older ones."
The company's "new oncology" efforts will a key part of that transition. Tagrisso and the PARP inhibitor Lynparza (olaparib) have done moderately well to date, pulling in a combined $209 million in the fourth quarter and $641 million for the year.
But finding success with durvalumab and its associated combinations is the linchpin of AstraZeneca's efforts. The company expects to win U.S. approval in bladder cancer sometime in the first half of this year. And MYSTIC, a trial testing durvalumab plus tremelimumab as a first line treatment for certain lung cancers, will read out progression-free survival data in mid 2017.
Strong data from MYSTIC would fuel a filing in first-line lung cancer later in the year, potentially giving AstraZeneca a seat at the table in the rapidly growing immuno-oncology market.
AstraZeneca recently rejiggered that study, angling for a more competitive position from which to catch the leaders in the space.
"We have enhanced our options and followed the science in patients who express PD-L1 or who have low or no expression," said Sean Bohen, chief medical officer at AstraZeneca. "We are confident that we have the right trial designs and drugs to grow the new AstraZeneca."
Overall, top-line revenue fell 3% for the year on a constant currency basis. A 6% drop in product sales was partially buffered by $1.36 billion in externalization revenue.
Soriot hopes 2017 can be a turning point for the company. But even with durvalumab success, AstraZeneca will have its work cut out to catch Merck, Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb. With key brands hurting, Soriot will need to deliver on all aspects of his strategy for any hope of attaining the lofty revenue goals he set for 2023.
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