AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso-chemo combo results raise bar for J&J cancer drug-analysts

By Maggie Fick

LONDON (Reuters) – Data released on Monday by AstraZeneca from a late-stage trial combining its blockbuster cancer drug Tagrisso with chemotherapy to treat a type of lung cancer raises the bar for Johnson & Johnson’s rival treatment, analysts said.

A brief summary from the Phase 3 trial, called FLAURA2, was released in May, and the detailed data was presented on Monday in Singapore at the World Conference on Lung Cancer.

The FLAURA2 trial showed that when adding chemotherapy to Tagrisso, the risk of disease progression or death is reduced by 38% when compared to Tagrisso alone.

The median progression-free survival (PFS) was 29.4 months, a 9.5 month improvement over patients given only Tagrisso. The term PFS refers to how long a patient lives without the disease getting worse after treatment.

Barclays and UBS said in separate notes that the strong results were a boost for the British drugmaker ahead of Johnson & Johnson’s results due later this year of a head-to-head trial comparing Tagrisso alone with its own drug, Rybrevant, in combination with another medicine. That trial is called MARIPOSA.

“With the strong FLAURA-2 data in hand and likely included in treatment guidelines soon, the hurdle is now pretty high in our view for MARIPOSA,” the UBS note read.

It called the data “a bit of a clearing event” that reduces risk for AstraZeneca given that analysts see Tagrisso as an important near- and medium-term driver of growth. The drug generated $5.4 billion in sales last year.

However, AstraZeneca shares were down 3.3% at 1128 GMT, with two analysts citing to Reuters a report in the Mail on Sunday newspaper saying the drugmaker’s Chief Executive Pascal Soriot had said privately to friends and advisers that he may leave the company as soon as next year.

Reuters could not independently verify the information.

AstraZeneca declined to comment on the report.

In April, shortly before the company’s new chairman Michel Demare took up that role, Soriot said he looked forward to working with him “in the years to come”.

Barclays analysts said the FLAURA2 trial data presented on Monday included doctor and patient surveys that showed a strong preference for the convenience of a single therapy compared with combinations.

“We think that this raises the bar even perhaps a bit higher ahead of the MARIPOSA (results)” because J&J is contrasting Tagrisso as a single therapy against its own combination treatment, the note read.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)