PhIII data puts AZ one step closer to severe-asthma showdown with GSK


AstraZeneca has been working hard to challenge giant GlaxoSmithKline in the respiratory department. And it’s out with new data that may help an up-and-comer give its rival’s newest product a run for its money.

Last week, the British drugmaker announced that its candidate for severe asthma with eosinophilic inflammation--benralizumab--had nailed its primary endpoint in two Phase III studies, beating out placebo at paring down the annual asthma exacerbation rate among patients already taking ICS/LABA combos. And if all continues to go well, AZ is hoping it can soon add the med--its first respiratory biologic--to its portfolio as an add-on therapy.

If the drugmaker can bring the drug to market, it won’t be the only severe asthma-fighter out there. Xolair--shared by Roche’s Genentech and Novartis--competes in the space; more importantly, though, Glaxo won approval for its Nucala late last year, and like benralizumab, that product specifically targets severe asthma with eosinophilic inflammation.

Meanwhile, Glaxo is working hard to make sure it builds up as big a lead as possible--especially since it needs its new respiratory therapies to make up for declining superstar Advair. CEO Andrew Witty told investors on the company’s Q1 conference call that Nucala has “started very well” in every country where it has launched, even exceeding the company’s expectations; GSK has already recorded about 3,500 patient enrollments and visited “more or less” all relevant physicians, he noted.

And GSK isn't scared of AstraZeneca, either. “We feel good about the profile of the drug versus the up-and-coming competition. We think the dosage and the specific claims we have stand us in very good stead, and obviously the six-month head start doesn’t hurt either,” Witty said.

But AZ has shown it’s not afraid to get aggressive with payers to poach Glaxo’s market share. Back in 2014, it slapped sizable discounts on COPD med Symbicort to win payers’ favor over Advair. That favor didn’t last forever, though, with some re-elevating Advair after GSK dropped the price of its contender, too.

- read AZ's release
- see Glaxo's call transcript

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