Zeneca boosted by US approval for new breast cancer drug


City Editor

Zeneca took another step towards its goal of being the world's largest cancer drug group yesterday when it received clearance from the American Food and Drug Administration to market Arimidex, a new treatment for advanced breast cancer in post-menopausal women.

Analysts welcomed the final approval, which could lead to peak sales of Arimidex in perhaps five years of pounds 260m, a sizeable contribution to the company's pharmaceutical sales, just over pounds 2bn last year and forecast to reach pounds 3.3bn by 2000. The shares closed 6p higher at 1,252p.

Tom McKillop, chief executive of Zeneca's pharmaceuticals arm, said: "Current hormonal therapies for advanced breast cancer have limitations, particularly in terms of patient acceptability. Arimidex represents an effective and well-tolerated therapy."

He added that Zeneca, headed by David Barnes, would be evaluating the use of the drug in the treatment of early breast cancer, a much larger market. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 184,300 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. Zeneca believes that, despite screening campaigns to detect the disease in its early stages, 18,000 women in the US have advanced breast cancer.

About one woman in eight is expected to develop breast cancer at some time in her lifetime. The market for hormonal therapies to treat breast cancer in America was valued at $300m in 1994. Arimidex is effective because of the way it counters the growth of tumours stimulated by the female hormone oestrogen. In post-menopausal women, one of the main targets for anti-cancer drugs is non-ovarian synthesis of oestrogen, a process that Arimidex blocks.

Zeneca has already submitted Arimidex for approval in all the main drugs markets around the world. The treatment is already available in the UK and further approvals are expected this year. The company generates about a third of its revenues from cancer treatments, which include Nolvadex, another breast cancer drug, which had sales in 1994 of pounds 350m. Approval was also received last October for Casodex, which combats advanced prostate cancer. Tomudex, the first new colorectal cancer treatment for 35 years, is expected to be launched in the UK in the first quarter of the year.

The good news on Arimidex comes hot on the heels of Zeneca's announcement just before Christmas that it planned a sharp increase in its spending on drugs research and development.

According to Peter Doyle, group research and development director, R&D spending ofabout pounds 550m a year, will grow faster than inflation and the proportion of group funds spent on drugs rather than agrochemicals will increase to about two thirds.