October 4, 2016 / 7:17 AM / in 10 months

UPDATE 2-AstraZeneca cuts Brilinta sales hopes on artery disease failure

* Brilinta fails to show benefit over clopidogrel in PAD

* Follows failure of heart drug in stroke trial in March

* Executive says $3.5 bln drug sales target not attainable

* Drugmaker sells rights to Toprol-XL for up to $223 mln (Adds executive interview, latest shares)

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca's heart drug Brilinta has failed to help patients with serious circulatory problems in their legs, prompting the company to scrap a $3.5 billion-a-year sales target for the medicine by 2023.

AstraZeneca said on Tuesday Brilinta did not show a benefit over older blood thinner clopidogrel in treating peripheral artery disease (PAD) in a large-scale clinical trial. PAD usually affects the legs.

Clopidogrel is the generic name of Sanofi's former blockbuster drug Plavix, which is now off patent.

The setback follows similar disappointing results in March with the same AstraZeneca pill in another big trial in stroke patients. Both studies were designed to open up new markets for Brilinta beyond its current use in heart attack patients.

"We don't believe the goal of $3.5 billion is attainable. I think it would be unrealistic to believe that," Ludovic Helfgott, head of AstraZeneca's Brilinta business, told Reuters.

Shares in the company - which had not provided any guidance on the $3.5 billion sales prediction in the wake of the earlier stroke study - were down 1 percent at 0745 GMT.

Despite the disappointment, Helfgott said he remained very confident of demand for Brilinta for treating post-heart attack and acute coronary syndrome patients.

"The potential for the current indication is far from being exhausted," he said, pointing to improved sales momentum for the product in recent quarters.

Full results from the so-called EUCLID trial in PAD, which involved 13,885 patients, are expected at the American Heart Association annual meeting in New Orleans in November.

Current consensus analyst forecasts for Brilinta stand at an annual $2.1 billion for 2021, according to Thomson Reuters data.

During its defence against a takeover bid from Pfizer in 2014, AstraZeneca projected Brilinta sales reaching $3.5 billion by 2023, making it an important part of a $45 billion revenue target announced at the time.

Brilinta's sales in 2015 were $619 million.

Separately, AstraZeneca announced it had agreed to sell the U.S. rights to its old beta-blocker heart drug Toprol-XL to Aralez Pharmaceuticals, marking the latest move by the British company to divest non-core businesses as it focuses on bringing out newer medicines, especially for cancer.

Aralez will pay AstraZeneca $175 million upfront to acquire the rights to Toprol-XL tablets in the United States, and the authorised generic medicine marketed by Par Pharmaceuticals. It will also pay up to $48 million in milestone and sales-related payments, as well as mid-teen percentage royalties on sales.

The Aralez deal comes a day after AstraZeneca sold rights to an experimental medicine for inflammatory diseases to Allergan for an upfront payment of $250 million and potential additional payments of up to $1.27 billion. (Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Potter)

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