There is lots of news on AstraZeneca this week. Let’s begin with its big setback. Last year, the company had chosen to be patient after initial data showed its checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi combined with its in-house CTLA-4 drug failed to meet the primary endpoint of progression-free survival in a pivotal lung cancer trial. Last week, that faith let it down as the immunotherapy also failed to improve the overall survival rate in the keenly watched Phase III Mystic lung cancer trial.
The trial tested Imfinzi both as a monotherapy and in combination with another checkpoint inhibitor, tremelimumab, against chemotherapy in treatment-naive patients with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). According to the company, the combination performed worse than Imfinzi alone for the overall survival endpoint.
Meanwhile, the company took another step to refocus on priority drugs by selling US rights to a treatment for infant lung infections (Synagis) to Swedish Orphan Biovitrum, popularly known as Sobi, for an upfront fee of US$ 1.5 billion.
Around 130 AstraZeneca staff will be transferred to Sobi, which takes over the marketing of Synagis in the US. The acquisition is being seen as a significant commercial boost for rare diseases specialist Sobi, as this will give the Swedish company a substantially increased US footprint, while also expanding its business in immunology.
AstraZeneca will receive US$ 1 billion in cash and US$ 500 million in Sobi shares, equal to a stake of 8 percent in the Swedish group.
There was more from AstraZeneca, as talk about the exit of CEO Pascal Soriot gathered momentum.
The Sunday Times reported that AstraZeneca has begun succession planning following shareholder pressure as the drug behemoth works towards achieving a turnaround. The company is also looking for someone to succeed chief financial officer Marc Dunoyer.
According to the newspaper, Mene Pangalos and Ruud Dobber seem to be in the running for the top job. Dobber heads the commercial team in North America for AstraZeneca, while Pangalos is one of its top scientists in charge of R&D.
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