- In the same breath as announcing the failure of its closely watched MYSTIC study, AstraZeneca said Thursday it has inked an oncology collaboration with Merck & Co.
- Under the deal, AstraZeneca and Merck will jointly develop and commercialize the British pharma's PARP inhibitor Lynparza (olaparib) and its experimental MEK inhibitor selumetinib.
- The big pharmas will independently develop and commercialize Lynparza as a combo therapy with their respective PD-1/L1 inhibitors, including Merck’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and AstraZeneca's now-troubled Imfinzi (durvalumab).
On the morning AstraZeneca revealed its PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi (durvalumab) failed to improve progression-free survival in the hotly anticipated MYSTIC study, the British pharma started hedging its bets for its oncology products elsewhere.
The two big pharmas will now jointly share the development and commercialization costs of Lynparza and selumetinib as monotherapies and in combination with other non-PD-1/L1 drugs. They will independently fund the development of Lynparza in conjunction with their respective PD-1/L1 inhibitors.
Gross profits from sales of AstraZeneca's two drugs will be shared equally between the two companies, and AstraZeneca will continue to manufacture both medicines.
In return, Merck will pay AstraZeneca up to $8.5 billion for the partnership, including $1.6 billion upfront, $750 million for certain license options and up to $6.15 billion in regulatory and sales milestones.
It seems AstraZeneca hopes to capitalize on Merck's success in oncology and lessen its risk if Imfinzi flops and its cancer portfolio struggles to gain traction.
While Bristol-Myers Squibb’s PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) also failed in lung cancer, the drug already had a market-leading position. AstraZeneca, on the other hand, has been banking on the success of Imfinzi in lung cancer to help it catch up to immuno-oncology leaders like Merck and Bristol-Myers. With MYSTIC now looking like a bust, that task is substantially harder — especially as the PD-1/L1 field grows ever more competitive and crowded.
AstraZeneca’s PARP inhibitor Lynparza, though, has been considered highly successful so far and was first-to-market in that class. The drug had sales of $218 million in 2016. But is now facing competition from rival drugs in the same class developed by Tesaro, Inc. and Clovis Oncology. While Lynparza has a multi-year lead in this space, data from the other drugs have been good and Tesaro got its first approval in ovarian cancer just recently.