AstraZeneca has outlined its plans to become a major force in biologics through recently-acquired MedImmune which should see the firm get at least three new drug candidates into pivotal trials by 2010.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker held an analyst and investor meeting at MedImmune’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, USA, to highlight the pipeline it has in the biologics field. This is headed the only product currently in Phase III, namely motavizumab, a new monoclonal antibody specifically designed to treat respiratory syncytial virus.

Motavizumab is derived from Synagis (palivizumab), another RSV-specific MAb which is already approved for children at high-risk of developing serious RSV disease, such as certain preterm infants or some young children with congenital heart disease. MedImmune believes that motavizumab offers enhanced potency to the earlier product and a Biologics License Application is expected to be filed with the US Food & Drug Administration in early 2008.

Other highlights will see AstraZeneca try to bring a vaccine to market to help prevent pandemic influenza and MedImmune said it is “currently engaged” in dialogue with the US government, the World Health Organisation and others around the world on how it can help prepare for a potential crisis. Also, an application will be submitted in Europe for its FluMist vaccine in 2008.

MedImmune also outlined a number of asthma projects it has in Phase I and II which are studying MAbs that target the interleukin-5, IL-9 and IL-13 receptors. The unit also described “numerous oncology trials that are underway and/or planned”, including those for IPI-504, which is partnered with Infinity Pharmaceuticals. The drug candidate, which has just entered Phase II, is designed to inhibit heat shock protein 90 which is currently being evaluated as a potential treatment for three solid tumour indications.

"Dramatic acceleration
Analysts reacted by noting that AstraZeneca’s biologics projects are interesting but they are pretty much still at an early stage and $15.6 billion was a lot to pay for the newly-acquired unit. This is a point the company acknowledges but it is also looking long-term and MedImmune chief executive David Mott noted that his firm has “brought a dramatic acceleration in AstraZeneca’s ability to achieve its biologic ambition. We also significantly reduced the operational risk associated with executing on that ambition”.

He noted that MedImmune is “operationally independent but strategically aligned” to the parent group, so that it can retain its culture and “esprit de corps”. This means speed of decision-making “and an entrepreneurial spirit, where we all feel like we own a piece of the place”, coupled with “being part of a broader group with global capabilities and a much deeper basic research capability than MedImmune had on its own”.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive David Brennan added that apart from the MedImmune buy, the firm is always on the lookout for additional acquisitions or in-licensing agreements. Also, “we’ve brought in nearly 20 different kinds of deals, including product acquisitions and company acquisitions” over the past couple of years, he said.