Sector News

AZ's controversial castoffs continue

May 22, 2017
Life sciences

As promised, AstraZeneca is forging ahead with its cast-off strategy—and this time, it’s rights to an aged beta-blocker that’s are on their way out the door.

The British pharma giant announced Monday that it had agreed to sell off European rights to heart med Seloken and related combo Logimax to Italy’s Recordati in exchange for $300 million in a step commercial chief Mark Mallon said in a statement would allow the company to “concentrate our resources on bringing multiple new medicines to patients.” AZ will hang onto the duo in all other markets, it said.

“Recordati’s expertise in cardiovascular disease and established European salesforce will help to expand the commercial potential of the Seloken brands, which are mature medicines for the new AstraZeneca,” Mallon added. The pair netted $110 million in sales on the continent last year.

The sale marks AZ’s latest “externalization” effort, which the company has used to drum up profits in the absence of strong sales. In addition to the patent cliff troubles that have hit the drugmaker over the last few years, lackluster performances from the growth products key to that “new AstraZeneca” story—including diabetes med Farxiga and blood thinner Brilinta—have also plagued the AZ as of late.

“Essentially what we try to do is find value everywhere in the portfolio,” CEO Pascal Soriot said during AZ’s Q4 earnings presentation, with CFO Marc Dunoyer noting that “the externalization is going to continue.”

Critics, though, has railed against the practice’s lack of sustainability as AZ has washed its hands of assets such as gout med Zurampic, whose U.S. rights the company sent to Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in exchange for $265 million in cash, plus royalties; a lineup of antibiotics, which went to Pfizer for $1.5 billion; and an anesthetics stable that South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare snatched up for $770 million.

In the meantime, though, the company has a new approval in hand that should help get things going on the revenue front. Earlier this month, AZ scored its first go-ahead for closely watched immuno-oncology treatment Imfinzi, winning a nod in the crowded bladder cancer market. And shortly thereafter, it surprised the market with positive phase 3 lung cancer maintenance data that went “some way towards securing their IO bogey,” as Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson put it.

“When investors count the major I-O manufacturers,”—Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Roche and AstraZeneca—AZ is “invariably last,” he wrote. “Not any longer—this was a shrewd investment decision … AstraZeneca deserves a tip of the hat.”

With all eyes on its key lung cancer combo data, due out later this year, AstraZeneca could use that bogey. Investors are waiting with baited breath to find out whether AZ’s I-O-plus-CTLA4 combo—which combines Imfinzi with candidate tremelimumab—can top an I-O chemo approach, which Merck has already steered to an FDA approval.

By Carly Helfand

Source: Fierce Pharma

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