Promising cancer drug data helps AstraZeneca in Pfizer fight

Thu May 15, 2014 10:44am EDT
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By Deena Beasley and Ben Hirschler

(Reuters) - New data showing an experimental AstraZeneca (AZN.L: Quote) lung cancer drug shrank tumors in more than half of patients gave the British group fresh ammunition to argue that Pfizer's (PFE.N: Quote) takeover offer undervalues it substantially.

Britain's second-biggest drugmaker said on Thursday the strong results were among a raft of recent updates that showed accelerating progress in its pipeline of experimental medicines.

AstraZeneca has rejected a $106 billion approach from U.S. rival Pfizer, arguing that it has a bright independent future due to its promising line-up of new drugs. Pfizer is widely expected to return with a sweetened offer in coming days.

"We continue to build our pipeline and we are encouraged by the progress in the development of key assets," Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said in a statement.

Its new lung cancer drug, known as AZD9291, targets a genetic mutation that helps tumors evade current treatments. AstraZeneca believes it could sell as much as $3 billion a year.

Results from an early-stage Phase I trial of the drug, released late on Wednesday, showed AZD9291 shrank tumors in 51 percent of patients. Tumors shrank in 64 percent of patients found to have the mutation, known as T790M, which develops in about half of lung cancers that become resistant to drugs known as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors.

Savvas Neophytou, an analyst at brokerage Panmure Gordon, said the results were impressive and "AstraZeneca's management is right to be excited by the pipeline".

AstraZeneca shares were 0.8 percent higher in slightly lower London market by 1400 GMT.   Continued...

Chief Executive of AstraZeneca Pascal Soriot leaves after appearing at a commons science committee hearing at Portcullis House in London May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor