AstraZeneca (AZ) is looking to nail down several deals for experimental drugs this year, president of R&D Martin Mackay told the Financial Times (FT). Mackay says he is working on a flurry of deals that may include partnerships with other large drug companies, full acquisition of smaller public biotech companies, and licensing deals as well as tapping into private investors.
Less than one month after AZ’s CEO David Brennan suddenly resigned, amid news reports that he was pushed out, Mackay said he would be “personally disappointed” if new agreements have not been concluded before year’s end. He noted that he should be judged on AZ’s ability in coming months to complete deals, accelerate the number of drugs tested in humans, wring more sales from existing products, particularly after their patents expire, and ultimately, successfully launch new medicines to market. “I know we are doing the right things,” Mackay told the FT.
Those right things, he said, include looking at alternative forms of funding such as joint investment with private equity firms on drug projects most likely in core therapy areas such as diabetes and inflammation. “The notion of working with people to share some risk and fund some programs is natural for us,” Mackay added.
Mackay said AZ was “very open” to spinning out assets created through the collaborations, which he said were designed in part to increase flexibility and reduce the proportion of spending by the company on fixed costs on in-house researchers.
He said he was spending an increased amount of time in discussions on science with nonexecutive directors and with investors because “they want to hear from R&D.” Mackay defended AZ’s R&D strategy despite years of setbacks that helped seal Brennan’s fate with investors. AZ has seen several late-stage setbacks with experimental medicines the company had counted on to make up for sales revenues it is set to lose due to the patent expiration of several brand-name drugs.
Last year AZ halted development of its investigational compound olaparib for maintenance treatment of serous ovarian cancer before it entered Phase III trials. In addition AZ disclosd that a second Phase III study of TC-5214 for patients with major depressive disorder did not meet its primary endpoint.
The company took pretax impairment charges totaling $381.5 million to its fourth quarter 2011 R&D expense. During the first quarter, AZ saw its pretax profit plunge 38% from the year-ago period to $2.053 billion on revenue that fell 11% to $7.349 billion.
On April 2, AZ inked a joint development and commercialization deal with Amgen for five monoclonal antibodies from Amgen's clinical inflammation portfolio. Amgen will lead the development and commercialization strategy for AMG 557, being investigated in Phase Ib for autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, as well as Brodalumab (AMG 827) for psoriasis (completed Phase II), psoriatic arthritis (Phase II) and asthma (Phase II).
AZ will lead development and commercialization of AMG 139 for Crohn disease, now being investigated in Phase Ib; AMG 157, being investigated in Phase Ib for asthma; and AMG 181, being investigated in Phase Ia and Phase Ib for ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease.
AZ agreed to make a one-time $50 million up-front payment, with the companies sharing both costs and profits. The Amgen deal offers only limited prospects for growth for AZ, since it will fund approximately 65% of costs for 2012–2014. After that, Amgen and AZ will split costs equally. Amgen agreed to retain a low single-digit royalty for brodalumab and a mid single-digit royalty for the rest of the portfolio, after which the companies will share profits equally.
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