AstraZeneca Falls as Crestor Study Results Not Significant

AstraZeneca Plc shares fell the most in two weeks in London trading after the company’s best-selling drug, Crestor, failed to meet the main goal of a study comparing it to a rival cholesterol-lowering pill.

AstraZeneca declined 106.5 pence, or 3.7 percent, to 2,809.5 pence. Crestor showed a benefit over Pfizer Inc.’s Lipitor in a study, though by one measure the result wasn’t statistically significant, the London-based company said in a statement today.

The drugmaker needs to convince doctors that Crestor has a significant benefit over Lipitor so that they will keep prescribing Crestor once cheaper copies of Lipitor reach the market, Tim Anderson, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, said in a report on Aug. 31. Crestor brought in $5.7 billion in 2010 revenue for AstraZeneca.

“A lot of people were hoping the study would differentiate the two,” Navid Malik, an analyst with Matrix Corporate Capital LLP, said an interview today. “I don’t think it will now.”

The study, dubbed Saturn, compared the two drugs’ effect on plaque build-up in the arteries of patients with heart disease. Crestor showed a greater reduction in the volume of plaques, or fatty deposits, in the coronary artery, AstraZeneca said.

Fatty Deposits

The researchers measured the amount of plaque in two different ways, by total volume and percentage volume. Crestor reduced the total volume of fatty deposits in the artery more than Lipitor, the world’s best-selling medicine. On a percentage basis, the study’s main measure of effectiveness, the result wasn’t statistically significant.

The lack of statistical significance means the company’s sales force can’t tell doctors that Crestor topped Lipitor in the study, Justin Smith, an analyst with MF Global U.K. Ltd., wrote in a note published today. Generic Lipitor may reach the U.S. market as early as November, he said.

Crestor should still fare well against generic Lipitor because it has been marketed since 2003 to difficult-to-treat patients whose cholesterol levels weren’t lowered effectively by Lipitor, Smith said. He estimates Crestor’s market share in the U.S. to be in the mid-teen percentage points and recommends buying the shares.

Sales Estimates

Bernstein’s Anderson lowered his estimate for sales in 2015 by 5 percent to $6.5 billion. That compares with the $7 billion average estimate of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

AstraZeneca will present further data from the Saturn study at the American Heart Association meeting on Nov. 15. Malik, who has a “reduce” rating on the stock, said he awaits further data to see whether Crestor had a negative effect on kidney function after seeing some signs of toxicity in previous studies.

Crestor’s tolerability and effectiveness in the study were consistent with previous trials, the company said today.

Lipitor generated $10.7 billion in sales last year for New York-based Pfizer. Lipitor loses patent protection this year while Crestor faces generic competition in the U.S. as early as 2016.

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