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AstraZeneca, Lilly feeling real pain in race for arthritis drugs

Lilly kills a trial, while AZ drug comes up short by comparison to Humira
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The supercharged race to get new treatments into the lucrative market for treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA) appeared to thin considerably today as one contender dropped a study and another's drug came up short against the existing competition.

The news is a boost to Abbott Laboratories ($ABT), whose Humira is the leader in this category, as well as to Pfizer ($PFE), which just recently got an oral RA competitor to Humira approved for sale in the U.S. and is looking to recover from the loss of patent protection of Lipitor, the world's all-time best-selling drug.

In what was the second piece of stomach-churning news this week, Eli Lilly ($LLY) said it was halting one of three late-stage trials of its rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug tabalumab because it wasn't showing significant results. Separately, a new study indicated that AstraZeneca's ($AZN) entry wasn't as effective as Humira. As Reuters points out, this was a particular blow to AstraZeneca, which has a weak pipeline and this year lost its patent on its blockbuster schizophrenia drug Seroquel and will soon lose protection on a couple of other key products.

AstraZeneca was trying to catch Pfizer, which last month got approval for its oral rheumatoid arthritis drug tofacitinib, which it calls Xeljanz. That drug is forecast to hit peak sales of $2 billion to $3 billion a year, offering some blockbuster relief to another company that has been savaged by generics competition. But that is still a far cry from Abbott's number-one-selling drug Humira, which is expected to earn $9.5 billion this year. As an oral drug, Xeljanz is likely to look more appealing for many patients compared to an injectable such as Humira. But Humira has built up plenty of momentum in this market.

And Lilly's decision was a pile-on to its announcement this week that it would forgo filing for U.S. approval of its closely watched Alzheimer's candidate solanezumab. Instead, the Indianapolis-based drug giant will embark on a new Phase III study to further investigate whether the antibody therapy slows cognitive decline in patients with the memory-robbing disease. Lilly's two late-stage trials of the treatment crashed and burned this summer on measures of cognitive and functional status in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease.

- read the Reuters story 
- more from Reuters 

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