AstraZeneca asthma drug hits goal, to enter competitive market

Tue May 17, 2016 5:38am EDT
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca's (AZN.L: Quote) drive to rebuild its portfolio of new medicines received a boost with positive results for an experimental biotech drug for severe asthma that the company previously flagged as a potential $2 billion-a-year seller.

Benralizumab, which is likely to reach the market next year, was well tolerated and succeeded in reducing asthma attacks in two pivotal late-stage clinical trials, the drugmaker said on Tuesday.

While it will be entering a competitive market, behind recently approved treatments such as GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK.L: Quote) Nucala and Teva's (TEVA.TA: Quote) Cinqair, AstraZeneca thinks benralizumab has the potential to be the best in class.

Analysts are not yet convinced and consensus annual sales forecasts for benralizumab currently stand at just $450 million by 2021, according to Thomson Reuters Cortellis, well below the $2 billion predicted by AstraZeneca in 2014.

The company gave its bullish forecast for benralizumab, along with many other pipeline products, at the time of Pfizer's (PFE.N: Quote) unsuccessful attempt to acquire it.

Tom Keith-Roach, head of AstraZeneca's respiratory, inflammation and autoimmune business, declined to give an update on sales expectations but told Reuters that the drug's unique mechanism of action should position it well against rivals.

Benralizumab works directly against cells in the body driving inflammation called eosinophils, leading to their rapid depletion, while rival medicines work less directly.

Deutsche Bank analyst Richard Parkes said the market for severe asthma drugs could grow to be worth more than $7 billion a year and detailed results on benralizumab, potentially at a medical meeting in September, would be important in determining its commercial potential.   Continued...

The logo of AstraZeneca is seen on medication packages in a pharmacy in London April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth