Stroke drug failure mars AstraZeneca joy

Anglo-Swedish drugs giant AstraZeneca posted on Thursday a 29.8-percent leap in third-quarter net profit, but the results were overshadowed by news that a key drug in development has been abandoned.

AstraZeneca shares sank 6.32 percent on the London Stock Exchange to 3,306 pence in afternoon trade after the group said that development of a drug, aimed at reducing disability caused by strokes, had ended because it failed the final stages of clinical


Net profit jumped by almost a third to $1.592 billion in the three months to September 30, 2006, AstraZeneca said in an official earnings release.

The figure compared with $1.230 billion in the third quarter of 2005.

Group sales leapt 12.6 percent to $6.516 billion, while operating profit climbed 24 percent to $2.106 billion.

Analysts’ consensus forecasts had been for sales of $6.51 billion and operating profit of $2.07 billion.

Profits were driven by its five key growth drugs – Nexium for acid stomach, cholesterol lowerer Crestor, breast cancer treatment Arimidex, asthma drug Symbicort and Seroquel for schizophrenia – which generated combined sales growth of 21 percent.

AstraZeneca said earlier on Thursday that it had discontinued development of NXY-059, a compound which had failed to demonstrate any benefit in reducing disability in people who suffered the most common form of stroke.

If the drug had ever reached the marketplace it was tipped by industry analysts to generate more than $1.0 billion in sales.

“While today’s announcement of the clinical trial results for NXY-059 is disappointing, I remain committed to maintaining this operating and financial momentum and to strengthening the pipeline,” chief executive David Brennan said.

Pharmaceutical companies refer to their portfolio of drugs that are under development as their “pipeline”. Drugs in the late stages must complete final rounds of clinical trials and gain regulatory approval before entering the market.

NXY-059 was a neuroprotectant, designed to protect the brain cells from damaging agents.

“These clinical trial results, while not without precedent given the challenging nature of the science, are disappointing for patients looking for new treatments for stroke and for AstraZeneca as we seek to build our research and development pipeline,” said John Patterson, executive director of development for AstraZeneca.

Patterson indicated that the result had effectively dashed hopes that this approach would ever generate an effective treatment for stroke.