AstraZeneca bolsters cancer pipeline with partnerships

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Jeff Mordock


AstraZeneca has reached agreement on three high-profile partnerships for oncology medicines that could generate more than $1 billion in revenue.

The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Fairfax, struck a $10 million deal last week with Heptares Therapeutics, a United Kingdom-based biotech unit of Sosei, a Japanese company.

Under the agreement, AstraZeneca will have exclusive global rights to Heptares’ potential cancer medicine identified as HTL-107 along with additional compounds in a deal that could top $500 million.

Herptares’ compounds target the mechanisms cancer tumors develop to evade the immune system. The medicines also promote cancer-fighting cells within the body.

In a second agreement, AztraZeneca’s MedImmune subsidiary will partner with Little Mirati Therapeutics, a San Diego company, to market Little Mirati’s experimental non-small cell lung cancer therapy known as MEDI4736. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

MEDI4736, also known as durvalumab, was also created to destroy the mechanisms used by cancer cells to avoid immune system detection.

AstraZeneca also reached an agreement Monday with Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, for its INO-3112 therapy, which targets cancers caused by the human papillomavirus types 16 and 17. Inovio will receive $27.5 million for the drug with potential future payments of up to $700 million.

INO-3112is in Phase I and II clinical trials for cervical and head and neck cancers by stimulating responses from T-cells to destroy tumors created by HPV, responsible for more than 70 percent of cervical cancer.

AstraZeneca spokeswoman Michele Meixell said the agreements will increase the company’s share of the $100 billion global cancer market. The need demand for cancer medicines is so strong that total global sales of oncology medicines could reach $147 billion by 2018, according to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a unit of drug data researcher IMS Health.

“Oncology is a key growth driver for AstraZeneca,” Meixell said. “It will be potentially transformational for the company’s future.”

AstraZeneca, which employees 2,600 in Delaware, has six cancer medicines in worldwide studies or under regulatory review. Iressa, a lung cancer medicine, received regulatory approval in the United States last month and Faslodex 500mg was approved in China.

Helen Bowers, chairwoman of the Lerner College of Business & Economics at the University of Delaware, said as the global population ages, the demand for oncology and Alzheimer’s treatments will spike dramatically.

“Although we’ve made tremendous advancements in cancer treatment, there are some types of cancers where we’ve made no progress at all,” she said. “There is still a lot of need for less toxic, more effective cancer treatments.”

Joseph Fuhr, a professor of economics and adjunct assistant professor of pharmaceutical and healthcare business at Widener University, said partnership agreements like the ones AstraZeneca reached this week are becoming more common in the industry. The partnerships help reduce a company’s financial commitment to a single product if it does not succeed in clinical trials or cannot receive regulatory approval.

“AstraZeneca is only putting up $10 million in the Heptares deal, which isn’t a lot for them,” he said. “It looks like a good deal because they are low risk and high reward if this medicine works.”

Bowers agreed, noting how few cancer medicines fail to even reach regulatory approval state. The Centre for Medicines Research, a British medical data group, reported that since 2008, the worldwide failure rate for cancer drugs in Phase II and Phase III clinical trials are rising. Phase II success rates were at 18 percent in 2012, lower than any other phase of drug development.

“You are looking at a lot of things with a relatively small chance of success,” Bowers said. “Some medicines maybe more promising than others but this is a nascent research area.”