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AstraZeneca’s new asthma drug: “Late to the game, but potentially best in class”

This week AstraZeneca announced a next-generation asthma drug that would see it locking horns with fellow pharma giants over treatments already out there.

Lung graphic
Asthma is well treated, but predominantly with inhaled treatments.

AstraZeneca's (LON:AZN) drug, which comes in the form of an injection, is 15 years in the making. It has sailed through further late-stage clinical trials and could be available to patients by next year.

But it is now the fourth biologic for severe asthma on the market following similar treatments from its heavyweight rivals GlaxoSmithKline (LON:GSK), Novartis (VTX:NOVN) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (TLV:TEVA).

Tara Raveendran, analyst at Shore Capital, said it may not be the early worm, but it certainly has the potential to overtake the competition.

“Late to the game, but potentially best in class in terms of dose,” she told Proactive.

AstraZeneca’s drug targets the worst two to three per cent of all asthma sufferers: those who experience the more severe symptoms. This market is estimated at around US$6-9bn based on peak sales.

Longer-lasting alternative

Asthma is well treated, but predominantly with inhaled treatments. AstraZeneca’s drug comes in the form of a prepared injection, used to alleviate symptoms over a longer timeframe, unlike topical treatments such as traditional inhalers.

“The data they presented suggest it could be used every eight weeks, at the moment the other alternatives are every four weeks,” said Shore’s Raveendran.

This makes it a longer-lasting alternative to the other intravenous treatments out there.

Trials have shown a 51% reduction in asthma attacks in a year, with an improvement in lung function and quality of life in just four weeks.

It is part of a new wave of biological treatments for people with severe asthma, treating the disease itself, rather than just its symptoms. But what else sets AstraZeneca’s drug apart?

“It has the dose advantage and a formulation advantage,” said Raveendran.

“But the clinical efficacy that we’ve seen is broadly similar, as is the scientific profile.”

Better clinical efficacy, but at what cost?

AstraZeneca’s treatment targets receptors which cause the severe symptoms, whereas the GSK’s offering targets the ligand, or binding molecule between receptors.

AstraZeneca has previously suggested targeting the receptor itself could result in better clinical efficacy.

But Raveendran noted that the claim was yet to be seen in clinical data.

AstraZeneca has kept mum about the price tag, but with recent comments by US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spooking the market, it will be in the back of everyone’s mind.

Similar drugs often come with a hefty associated cost. Biologics are expensive; one rival drug costs around US$30,000 a year.

But its something that will remain to be seen, said the analyst.

“Teva and GSK are broadly similar in price, one would expect Astra to come broadly in line with that.”

Shares spiked to 4,962p Monday morning after the announcement.

Quick facts: AstraZeneca

Price: 7943 GBX

LSE:AZN
Market: LSE
Market Cap: £104.24 billion
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