Since its acquisition of MedImmune in 2007, AstraZeneca has seen the number of biologics in its research pipeline rocket from 5% to 50%, a move that has brought some exciting future prospects to the drug giant's table.
At the time of the deal there was some feeling among analysts that its $15-billion price tag was on the high side. But the doubters could soon be eating their words, as AZ touts what it claims a very robust portfolio.
Speaking at a media roundtable event in London this week, Bahija Jallal, Executive Vice President at AstraZeneca and Head of MedImmune, said the company now boasts a "very solid Phase II pipeline", with many candidates - both small molecules and biologics - on the brink of entering Phase III.
On the biologics side, one of the most notable late-stage candidates is moxetumomab, which is starting to make waves after an outstanding performance in Phase I trials at the beginning of this year prompted US regulators to step in an ask the company to accelerate the programme into Phase III.
Phase I studies of the drug in hairy cell leukaemia showed a 90% response rate, and a biologics licence application filing is now expected as early as 2017, Jallal said.
Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmunity
Bing Yao, Senior Vice President and Head of RIA iMed at MedImmune, also highlighted the "significant unmet needs and growth opportunity in both asthma and COPD", another given that these diseases affect millions of people around the globe but remain poorly controlled in many cases.
Of particular note, he said, brodalumab (partnered with Amgen) has exhibited "potent efficacy" in early-mid-stage studies, with clinical data showing that 62.5% of patients achieved PASI 100 (total clearance of skin plaques, scaling and thickness), when figures of just 16%-18% are achieved with current therapies.
The drug, which blocks various IL-17 cytokines implicated in driving different inflammatory diseases, including psoriasis, kicked off Phase III trials in August last year, and a biologics license application is expected in 2015.
Yao said the firm is also "really excited" about the prospect of its targeted therapy benralizumab for asthmatics with eosinophilia, representing about 40%-60% of patients with severe disease.
The science behind this programme is that as a high eosinophil count is associated with exacerbation in some patients, and the drug binds to receptors with a high affinity to IL-5R alpha to deplete the number of these white blood cells.
Research thus far has shown that benralizumab is linked with a a decreased rate of both exacerbations (50% after a single injection) and hospitalisations, and Phase III trials are imminent.
There is also a subset of patients with COPD who exhibit high levels of eosinophils, in which Phase IIa studies have just been completed and a decision is pending, Bing said.
Oncology remains a key therapy area for AstraZeneca and, on the biologics front, MedImmune is developing a comprehensive portfolio with an emphasis on two key areas - antibody-drug conjugates and immune-mediated cancer therapy.
The firm is intent on creating drugs and combinations that can reverse the effect of cancer cells on the immune system, to restore its functionality. Explaining the interest in the area, Ed Bradley, Senior Vice President a Head of Oncology at the iMed, said between 60% to 80% of cancers will be amenable to an immune-focused therapy.
There are already big players in the field, such as Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, but Bradley insists that AZ and MedImmune are "uniquely positioned to combine agents within and between key scientific mechanisms" giving it a strong footing in the area.
Used in combination, such therapies are going to be more effective, he explained, and noted that the multiple immune therapy preclinical programmes at the firm not only provide the opportunity for such combinations but also the potential for synergism with small molecules in the pipeline.
Looking forward, Jallal also hinted that there would be more collaborations/acquisitions by MedImmune in the future - such as the deals announced this morning with Spirogen and ADC Therapeutics (see separate PharmaTimes news article).
"Collaboration is key to access outside innovation and improving innovation on the inside," she said.