AstraZeneca shares plunge 16 percent on lung cancer failure

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Although not formally tested, durvalumab monotherapy would not have met a prespecified threshold of PFS benefit compared with chemotherapy in this patient population, according to an AstraZeneca-issued press release.

The Phase III study - which is looking at how two of its lead IO drugs, Imfinzi and tremelimumab, work together in non-small-cell lung cancer patients - failed to meet the primary endpoint of improving progression-free survival compared to chemotherapy - the current standard of care.

The results as well as the outcome of the MYSTIC trial follow recent media reports that Soriot might be headed for generics drugmaker Teva.

AstraZeneca along with its global biologics R&D research arm MedImmune announced that their immune-oncology combo-treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, did not meet the primary endpoint in a late-stage study.

It said to expect takeover talk to crop up today on the failure and to see its shares down by around 10% to 15%.

Soriot declined to comment directly on what he described as "rumours" on Thursday, although company insiders said he would have had to make a statement if he had firm plans to leave. He didn't offer the firmest of denials, but said he was "committed" to AstraZeneca and was not a "quitter". The pharmco's core earnings per share meanwhile climbed six percent to $0.87.

However, I think the company has long term investment potential.

Bristol-Myers Squibb famously learned that lesson the hard way, pushing to test its flagship checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) in lung cancer patients with 1% or greater PD-L1 expression.

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Durvalumab, which AstraZeneca flagged in 2014 as having annual sales potential of $6.5 billion, is central to its drive into oncology - but it is not the only asset.

AstraZeneca - a relative latecomer in immunotherapy - had been hoping to secure a substantial slice of a multibillion-dollar market by proving its combination could help previously untreated patients with advanced lung cancer.

Offsetting the Mystic hit, the company also reported that its Tagrisso lung cancer pill improved progression-free survival in another trial called Flaura, which Soriot said put it on track for eventual sales of more than $4 billion a year.

In the US, AstraZeneca said product sales were down 28% to USD3.01 billion from the year before, while sales in Europe also declined by 8.0% to USD2.72 billion.

In a related announcement Thursday, AstraZeneca and Merck signed a deal to develop and market the PARP inhibitor Lynparza for different types of cancer.

"In our view, the group should make every effort to capitalise on their strategic tie-up with Merck announced today and strong progress in the trials for Tagrisso".

Total revenue at the company fell 11 percent to $10,456 million, but operating profit rose 37 percent to $1,842 million.

AstraZeneca reiterated its guidance for the full year.

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