- AstraZeneca's Tagrisso helped lung cancer patients with a specific mutation live longer when administered as the first treatment for the disease, outperforming the company's own Iressa and Roche's Tarceva in this setting.
- Results from the FLAURA trial underscore the importance of oncology to the U.K.-based group's growth strategy. Tagrisso is now its biggest seller as asthma and COPD drug Symbicort fades thanks to pricing pressure.
- Five years ago, Symbicort outsold all AstraZeneca oncology drugs combined.
Pascal Soriot took the helm of AstraZeneca in 2012 at a time when its global sales were in retreat. In the time since he has shifted the company away from price-sensitive cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous system drugs into oncology, selling off numerous assets that didn't fit with that picture.
Investors appear satisfied with the company's steady work to expand cancer drugmaking. Its London-listed shares touched a record high of 74.46 pounds on Friday following the announcement of the FLAURA results.
Execution hasn't always been perfect, however. Imfinzi (durvalumab) was a late-comer to immuno-oncology and has struggled to take market share. It significantly missed out on the first-line non-small lung cancer setting, where Merck & Co.'s rival Keytruda (pembrolizumab) dominates.
Tagrisso (osimertinib), meanwhile, has been an unquestioned success as it continues to outperform all challengers in the setting of EGFR-mutated non-small lung cancer.
AstraZeneca has now updated the FLAURA trial, which read out positively two years ago, to state that previously-untreated patients with locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who took Tagrisso lived longer following treatment than those who used Tarceva (erlotinib) or Iressa (gefitinib).
Full results will be detailed at an upcoming medical meeting. Assuming it is clearly positive, AstraZeneca will want to include the data on the Tagrisso label to help strengthen its hold in this setting.
AstraZeneca is looking to expand Tagrisso use, with Phase 3 trials underway as a post-surgical treatment to prevent the return of disease and as a maintenance therapy following a first-line chemotherapy treatment. Those trials are expected to return data in 2020.
Lynparza (olaparib) also has made steady progress, moving up treatment lines in BRCA-mutated ovarian and breast cancer, and even returning promising results in challenging pancreatic cancer. It has yet to make quite the mark Tagrisso has in sales, with Lynparza returning $520 million in the first half of 2019 compared to Tagrisso's $1.4 billion.
AstraZeneca's first half results listed 146 oncology clinical trials, including both their marketed products and experimental assets, often combining Imfinzi with other immuno-oncology pipeline projects. Among the novel approaches are an NKG2 inhibitor and a BCMA-targeting antibody-drug conjugate.