AstraZeneca Cancer News Boosts Soriot’s $45 Billion Case

Newly reported data for AstraZeneca Plc’s experimental cancer treatments “gives credibility” to the drugmaker’s forecast of $45 billion in annual revenue by 2023, according to Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot.

The release of information on AstraZeneca’s new medicines this weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting should lessen skepticism about the prediction, Soriot said in an interview yesterday at the Chicago conference. The estimate is 75 percent higher than 2013 sales.

Soriot cited the forecast last month in rejecting Pfizer Inc.’s bid to buy his company for $117 billion (69.4 billion pounds). A combination of two AstraZeneca drugs that target ovarian cancer almost doubled progression-free survival, according to one finding at the meeting, while early-stage data on a lung cancer drug showed it shrank tumors in 64 percent of patients with a type of gene mutation. Results from a trial on AstraZeneca’s immune therapy drug will be reported tomorrow.

When the forecast was first devised “we had a relatively low chance of success for these products,” Soriot said. Now, they have “a very good chance to make it,” he said.

AstraZeneca shares rose as much as 1.4 percent to 4,344.50 pence in London trading, the highest level since May 22, four days before Pfizer abandoned its takeover bid.

Soriot also said the company is considering its own acquisitions. In turning down Pfizer’s offer of 55 pounds in cash and stock, Soriot repeatedly said the company could be more valuable on its own. AstraZeneca’s revenue forecasts were set in September and October, and then released to the public May 6 following Pfizer’s first public bid.

Scientific Meetings

Still, Soriot said he was unwilling to raise the forecast.

“In the last eight months, we haven’t had anything go down,” he said. “But we will have projects that fail. It’s the name of the game in our business. So we will redo” the forecast “in September, as we do every year.”

Soriot, 55, wearing blue jeans and a blazer, appeared relaxed as he conducted meetings at the downtown Hilton Chicago. A veterinarian by training, he said he preferred spending his days at scientific meetings rather than plotting takeover defense with investment bankers.

Pfizer ended its six-month attempt to buy AstraZeneca May 26, the deadline imposed by the U.K. Takeover Panel. The New York-based company can bid again after six months, or in three if invited by AstraZeneca. It can also make a one-time “knock out” bid with the permission of the Takeover Panel.

AstraZeneca’s forecast included sales projections for drugs already on the market such as Brilinta, a heart medicine, for which the company has estimated sales of about $3.5 billion in 2023. Those projections were viewed as unrealistic by some analysts.

‘Blue Sky’

“Many observers will view this as a huge stretch and count this as ‘blue sky’” wrote Deutsche Bank analyst Mark Clark in a May 6 note to investors. “AstraZeneca can genuinely boast a potentially exciting pipeline but promise and sales do not necessarily match up in this risky and competitive industry and furthermore its ex-pipeline assumptions will likely be seen as optimistic.”

Whether or not Pfizer returns, AstraZeneca will consider its own acquisitions, and will look at buying small to mid-size companies, Soriot said. It will consider a large purchase only if it adds value and can be integrated without disruption to the company’s development program, he said.

“What we will not do is look for an acquisition that is purely defensive to try and escape,” a buyout, he said.

Included among the results at the cancer meeting was a finding from a phase 2 study, sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, that showed using AstraZeneca’s olaparib and cediranib in combination could almost double progression-free survival in certain patients, to 17.7 months compared to nine months in patients using olaparib alone.

Chemotherapy Replacement

The results suggest the combination could replace chemotherapy for some patients, according to the study’s author, Joyce Liu, a researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“It’s exciting,” said Liu. “It potentially provides a separate alternative in the arsenal of treatments.”

Olaparib is also in phase 3 trials as an individual treatment and has received priority review by the Food and Drug Administration. The drug had been abandoned by AstraZeneca and the drugmaker had taken a $285 million charge in 2011 for it before Soriot revived the product.

Company estimates call for sales of around $2 billion. Now that figure could be conservative, Soriot said.

AstraZeneca also released results of a phase 1 trial for AZD9291, a lung cancer drug that attacks a specific type of mutation. For patients with the EGFR T790M+ tumor who had a recurrence of their cancer, 64 percent experienced shrinking of their tumors.

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