AstraZeneca keeps double-digit China growth on track in Q1

Pascal Soriot
AstarZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

A slower pace of growth in China for the first quarter is not a major worry yet for executives at AstraZeneca ($AZN)--but it does highlight that product mix is key in a market where pressure for price cuts is growing.

AstraZeneca saw sales in constant currency up 11%, a drop from a 15% pace in the fourth quarter.

But on the April 29 earnings call, CEO Pascal Soriot and Luke Miels, EVP for global product and portfolio strategy and global medical affairs and corporate affairs, said the right product mix keeps them ahead of other multinationals.

"We're benefiting from a very attractive combination of products for China right now," Miels said. "I think if we looked in 10 years' time, that collection of products may not be as competitive. But right now it's extremely competitive. So we got a good sequence here. We've got products like [asthma treatment] Pulmicort (budesonide)."

He later added that "Pulmicort Respules, interestingly, is now the top medicine in China amongst the multinational company medicines, with [GERD treatment] Nexium (esomeprazole) and [heart drug] Crestor (rosuvastatin) also in the top 15."

Miels also said the company is not idle in China on future plans and potential sales avenues. He noted a plan announced in December with China's WuXi AppTec to develop and commercialize a biologic treatment for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases in China--developed out of AZ's biologics arm Medimmune--as one of the ways it is developing deeper ties in the region. 

"Then, if we look into the medium- to longer-term, a product like [its new lung cancer treatment] Tagrisso (osimertinib) is extremely exciting in terms of the value that it could add to treatment for patients in China," Miels said.

China's National Health and Family Planning Commission is now in talks for discounts on three non-small cell lung cancer drugs, Roche's ($RHHBY) Tarceva (erlotinib), AstraZeneca's Iressa (gefitinib), and Conmana (icotinib) from Hangzhou-based Betta Pharmaceuticals.

But Tagrisso, recently approved in Japan, is a first-in-class drug that analysts note is ahead of the state-of-play on NSCLC therapies now available in China. However, Boehringer Ingelheim hopes to be the first company to get a second-generation NSCLC treatment, Giotrif (afatinib), approved in China as soon as this year, Gerd Stehle, vice president and International Area head of Oncology for the privately held German firm, said in March.

Miels updated on the Japan plans for Tagrisso, saying a launch is planned before the second half of 2016.

"If you look at patient numbers, there's around 8,000 in adjuvant, and there's around 18,000 in Japan in first-line, and then if you look at second-line [...] apply a mutation rate of mid-60s to 70% around 8,000 patients in Japan," Miels said.

- here's the earnings release