AstraZeneca’s £93m headache as it dumps another new drug


Struggling AstraZeneca today faced yet another blow when it had to dump a new arthritis treatment because clinical trials showed patients were hit with side-effects including the common cold.

Pulling development on fostamatinib, a rheumatoid arthritis pill, means a $140 million (£93 million) impairment charge. But analysts were more worried about Astra’s floundering pipeline. The experimental medicine was one of the very few late-stage drugs in Astra’s research labs, and Britain’s second-biggest drugmaker had put it through clinical trials for two and a half years, on more than 2100 patients.

Fostamatinib,   which Astra was working on with US biotech Rigel Pharmaceuticals, was seen as a potential competitor to drugs such as Abbott Laboratories’ Humira, the world’s best-selling prescription medicine, in an arthritis market worth $20 billion (£13 billion).

But Astra admitted patients taking part in the drug’s trials had faced a cocktail of side-effects including hypertension, diarrhoea, nausea, headache and colds.  Analysts said that meant more than six drug failures from Astra’s pipeline in recent years. A string of AstraZeneca’s big-selling drugs fell out of patent last year, leaving revenues down 17%. The US patents for its best-selling drugs, Nexium ulcer pills and cholesterol-buster Crestor, expire within three years.