AstraZeneca Unveils Data Behind New Win For Blockbuster Drug

(Bloomberg) — AstraZeneca Plc’s blockbuster drug Tagrisso cut the risk of lung cancer death or relapse by four-fifths over three years, according to detailed results from a study that raises survival prospects for patients in the early stages of the deadly disease.

Adding Tagrisso to the regimen of early-stage lung cancer patients who had undergone surgery reduced the risk of dying or disease recurrence by 79%, compared with a placebo, according to the research. Patients’ tumors also had a mutation in a cancer-linked gene, called EGFR. AstraZeneca will present the results at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference on Sunday, a month and a half after the trial was halted early because of its strong outcome.

Tagrisso is Astra’s biggest product, with sales of $982 million in the first quarter of this year. Around 60,000 additional patients may be eligible for treatment if the drug is approved in early-stage, post-surgical lung cancer, according to Dave Fredrickson, vice president for global oncology. Patients would take the drug for two to three years.

The study results’ strength suggest that most doctors will adopt the therapy now as the standard of care for this new set of patients, rather than waiting for additional data on overall survival, Sam Fazeli, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said in a note.

AstraZeneca jumped as much as 3.4% in early London trading on Friday. Shares of the Cambridge, England-based company have gained about 50% in the past year.

The most important implication of the trial is that it provides a “reason for more early screening to take place for lung cancer patients,” Fredrickson said in an interview. “The improved outcome that we’re seeking is cure.”

Early screening often doesn’t take place currently because there are few therapies available compared with those for late-stage lung cancer, he said.

After two years of treatment, 89% of patients in the trial treated with Tagrisso remained alive and disease-free, compared with 53% on placebo, Astra said. The results were consistent, whether patients got chemotherapy along with surgery or not.

The ASCO conference is a key event in the calendar of oncology researchers and physicians, with scientists showcasing their best work and unveiling results from high-profile trials. This year’s meeting will be online due to the pandemic, with access to all results from the gathering available starting on Friday.

(Updates with analyst’s comment in fourth paragraph.)

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