AstraZeneca’s Arthritis Drug Fails to Top Standard Therapy

AstraZeneca Plc said its experimental drug for rheumatoid arthritis didn’t show a benefit against Abbott Laboratories’s Humira as a stand-alone therapy in a mid-stage trial.

Fostamatinib, which AstraZeneca is also testing in late-stage trials in combination with other drugs, showed some early benefit over a placebo in the trial, the London-based company said in a statement today. The six-month study looked for improvements in symptoms among 280 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease where the body’s immune system attacks tissues and can cause painful swelling in the joints.

The result was “disappointing” and raises questions about whether fostamatinib can be competitive with Pfizer Inc.’s recently approved Xeljanz, which showed “substantially better” efficacy over Humira in another study, Seamus Fernandez, an analyst with Leerink Swann & Co., said in a note to investors.

AstraZeneca fell 2.8 percent to 2,958.50 pence at the close of trading in London. The drugmaker’s partner on the medicine, Rigel Pharmaceuticals Inc., fell 35 percent to $5.51, the most in four years, in New York trading.

The U.K.’s second-biggest drugmaker is scouting licensing and acquisition deals as it seeks to replace revenue lost as exclusivity on its best-selling drugs expire. Fostamatinib is one of only a few in the company’s late-stage pipeline and is estimated to generate $2 billion in 2017, Jefferies analyst Thomas Wei said in a note Nov. 7.

Data from the late-stage trial is expected during the first half of 2013 which will form the basis of AstraZeneca’s application for marketing approval, Martin Mackay, head of research and development, said in the statement.

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