AstraZeneca praises “clinically meaningful” cancer drug trial results

AstraZeneca announced the full results of its trials at a medical conference on Monday, in an attempt to reassure investors about their plans to replace chemotherapy with a targeted drug.

David Fredrickson said that it was “a massive achievement” for a “really ambition programme” that they were able to present two clinical trials – in lung cancer and in breast cancer – that proved their new treatment is better than chemotherapy, on which doctors have relied on for more than a decade.

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company has partnered up with Daiichi Sankyo in Japan to develop two “antibody drug conjugates” that use antibodies to deliver chemotherapy to tumours with less side effects.

Investors are hopeful that the second drug, Dato-DXd, will be successful.

Investors were disappointed when AstraZeneca failed to declare that the first results of a lung cancer trial had been “clinically significant”, causing the stock price to drop by 5 percent. The stock fell another 5 per cent when the summaries from a European Cancer Conference were released.

Susan Galbraith said that the full results of the trial were “clinically significant”, particularly in the segment of patients with lung cancer “non-squamous”, which accounts for about 70% of all patients.

The benefit is clinically significant, and the tolerability of this treatment is better than standard chemotherapy for that patient population. “I think it’s very important,” she said.

The lung cancer study, which included more than 600 patients compared Dato-DXd, the new drug candidate, with docetaxel – a chemo drug that was first approved in 1990 but is still used today. The study found that patients who received the new treatment lived for a median of four months without tumour growth, compared to 3.7 months with docetaxel. The median for the non-squamous group was 5.6 months compared to 3.7.

Jefferies analysts, in a response to the initial release of lung cancer summary data last week said that the overall results were disappointing, but the result for the subset is “strong”.

According to the paper, the breast cancer trial showed that patients were more likely to survive without tumour growth when the study was conducted.

In 2020, AstraZeneca will partner with Daiichi Sankyo to develop Dato-DXd, in a deal that could be worth $6bn. This follows its partnership on Enhertu last year, which was worth $6.9bn. Both companies have heavily invested in clinical trials of both drugs for different types and combinations of cancers.

Daiichi Sankyo, however, announced last week that it has partnered with US Merck to develop three potential antibody drug conjugates. The deal could be worth up $22bn if the drugs receive approval and reach certain sales milestones. Daiichi shares soared by 14 percent on Friday following the announcement of the deal, while Merck (known as MSD outside the US) gained 1.6 percent.

Galbraith declined to comment on AstraZeneca’s bid for a partnership on the next drug in the pipeline. She said that AstraZeneca has four antibodies drug conjugates currently in clinical trials and two deals have been made with Chinese companies for ADCs.

She said: “We believe that ADCs can replace the backbone of chemotherapy in a wide range of tumour types.”