UPDATE 2-AstraZeneca arthritis drug lags Abbott's Humira in test
Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:27am EST
* Oral fostamatinib worse than Abbott injectable in Phase IIb
* Definitive Phase III results with fostamatinib due in 2013
* Analyst expectations for AstraZeneca product already low
* Shares fall 1.8 percent, underperform drugs sector (Adds analyst comment, share price, more details on drug and competitors)
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Dec 13 (Reuters) - An experimental rheumatoid arthritis drug from AstraZeneca proved inferior to Abbott Laboratories' Humira in a clinical study, knocking hopes for one of the few late-stage products in the company's pipeline.
The mid-sized study of fostamatinib - which is given as a pill rather than injected, as is the case with Humira - showed it was not as good as Abbott's market-leading drug in controlling arthritis symptoms, AstraZeneca said on Thursday.
AstraZeneca is chasing rival Pfizer in the race to develop a convenient oral alternative to anti-TNF injections like the $9 billion-a-year seller Humira, which have led the field for the past decade.
But while Pfizer's new pill Xeljanz won approval from U.S. regulators last month, analysts have been sceptical about prospects for fostamatinib, following mixed results in earlier studies, including raised blood pressure in some patients.
The Phase IIb monotherapy results will do nothing to inspire confidence that fostamatinib can become the kind of multibillion-dollar seller that AstraZeneca needs to offset expiring patents on its existing best-selling medicines.
Although it proved better than placebo at some doses, the failure to match Humira's efficacy is "likely to limit the product's commercial potential," said Panmure Gordon analyst Savvas Neophytou.
With this year's loss of exclusivity on schizophrenia drug Seroquel, and Nexium for stomach acid and cholesterol fighter Crestor set for U.S. patent expiries in 2014 and 2016, AstraZeneca's new chief executive Pascal Soriot faces one of the industry's steepest patent "cliffs".