When completed, AstraZeneca’s $15.6 billion acquisition of MedImmune will realise the firm’s long-stated goal of becoming a true biologics company, according to Charles Morris, vice president of clinical development, oncology.

Dr Morris, speaking at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, told a pipeline briefing that “we have talked for some time about AstraZeneca becoming much more of a biologics company; with the acquisition of MedImmune we are now there. This deal gives us a platform on which to move into the area of monoclonal antibodies and vaccines for the treatment of many diseases, including cancer. It [the acquisition] is very central to what AstraZeneca is hoping to achieve in the future,” he said.

He added that AstraZeneca’s oncology pipeline was seen as “critically important” for the company’s future – hence the substantial investment in oncology R&D and the recent expansion of company facilities in Boston, USA and Alderley Park, UK.

Cediranib shows promise

Although the oncology pipeline will not bear any real fruit until 2010, promising results on several developmental agents were unveiled at ASCO, including Phase II data for Recentin (cediranib), an oral pan- vascular endothelial growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor formerly known as AZD2171, in patients with recurrent glioblastoma. Results from the National Cancer Institute-sponsored study at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, showed eight patients (27.6%) of the 31 treated with cediranib with recurrent glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of primary brain tumour, were alive and progression-free at six months.

Data was also presented from another ongoing NCI-sponsored Phase II study which looked at cediranib in first-line, progressive, unresectable, advanced metastatic renal cell carcinoma. This revealed that 27 patients receiving cediranib as monotherapy were able to be evaluated for response with a response rate of 33% and tumour control rates of 66.7%.

The company also presented ‘first in class’ data showing that AZD0530 is the first Src inhibitor to demonstrate inhibition of Src-related activity in human solid tumours as “other compounds have not shown this ability,” said Dr Josep Tabernero of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital, Barcelona, Spain. The data “gives a clear rationale to develop AZD0530 alone and combination for the treatment of a broad range of tumour types,” he added. Src was the first cancer-causing gene to be discovered in the 1970s and Src kinases are a family of molecules that play an important role in cancer growth, spread, apoptosis and cell proliferation.

Dr Morris concluded by saying that results from the EPOC study which is investigating the Phase II compound ZD4054 in metastatic hormone refractory prostate cancer will be presented later this year.