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AstraZeneca’s $80B sales plan leans on cancer drug expansion

Dive Brief:

  • AstraZeneca’s plan to reach $80 billion in sales by 2030 relies heavily on a slate of roughly one dozen cancer drugs it expects will become blockbuster sellers at their peak, according to a presentation to investors that executives outlined Tuesday.
  • One of the drugs, the lung cancer treatment Tagrisso, has already exceeded $5 billion in annual sales and another, Imfinzi, is approaching that mark. But four use technologies AstraZeneca hasn’t previously employed and will either take on or trail products from rival drugmakers.
  • Broadly, AstraZeneca aims to develop drugs that supplant toxic chemotherapies as well as immunotherapies known as checkpoint inhibitors. Its large pipeline of antibody-drug conjugates, which add tumor cell-targeting to chemical toxins, will play a large role in achieving the former goal.

Dive Insight:

AstraZeneca has reinvented itself over the past decade, shifting from its prior focus on mental health, respiratory and cholesterol drugs to emphasize oncology. There, its strength has been in targeted therapies and in antibody-drug conjugates, as it has come late to fields like immunotherapy and radiopharmaceuticals. Imfinzi, the company’s flagship immunotherapy, arrived fifth to market in the U.S. and last year earned sales that were one-fifth of Merck & Co.’s Keytruda, the leader in the space.

AstraZeneca plans to change that picture. In immunotherapy, it’s developing bispecific antibodies that target the PD-1 pathway. One, called rilvegostomig, binds to another immunity-modulating pathway called TIGIT, which has proven a difficult target even in combination with PD-1 drugs.

Another, known as volrustomig, binds to PD-1 and a target called CTLA-4, essentially duplicating a two-drug combination of Imfinzi with another immunotherapy called Imjudo.

A third bispecific antibody, code-named AZD0486, simultaneously binds certain proteins on immune and diseased cells to treat lymphoma. Those proteins, CD3 and CD19, are also the targets of one of the oldest approved bispecific antibodies, Amgen’s Blincyto, although that drug is used for treating leukemia.

AstraZeneca also plans to make a mark in cell therapy, which has so far been led by Novartis, Gilead and Bristol Myers Squibb, as well as biotechnology companies like Legened Biotech and Bluebird bio. Leading AstraZeneca’s efforts is a dual-acting therapy that hits a protein active on multiple myeloma cells, along with CD19. The company claims it can make that drug, which would compete with Legend and J&J’s Carvykti and Bristol Myers’ Abecma, in a few days, rather than the weeks current CAR-T therapies take to produce.

Outside of immunotherapy, AstraZeneca is advancing a new type of hormone therapy for breast cancer that it’s testing in post-surgical and inoperable settings, paired with types of targeted therapies in some cases. In breast cancer, it is also studying a so-called PARP inhibitor known as saruparib, which could potentially replace its $2 billion-a-year drug Lynparza.

Antibody-drug conjugates, which pair the tumor-targeting of antibodies with the cell-killing power of chemotherapies, will continue to play a large role in AstraZeneca’s cancer drug plans, too.

The company already markets one, the breast cancer drug Enhertu, and has another now before regulators, called datopotamab deruxtecan and also for breast cancer. Peter Welford, an analyst at Jefferies, forecasts that latter drug will earn nearly $6 billion in sales in 2030.

AstraZeneca has six other clinical-stage ADCs. Combined, its ADC assets could be used in 17 different types of cancer.

Beyond 2030, the drugmaker expects to add radiopharmaceuticals, or hybrid radiation-emitting drugs, to its arsenal. AstraZeneca paid $2.4 billion in March to acquire Fusion Pharmaceuticals, a developer of such products that has a prostate cancer drug in Phase 2.