ACC: AstraZeneca's clot-busting Brilinta matches Plavix safety in high-risk heart attack patients

ORLANDO, Fla.—AstraZeneca may have just found a new niche for blood thinner Brilinta.

Sunday at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session, the British pharma giant presented data showing the drug could match clopidogrel—known in the branded world as Sanofi’s Plavix—in terms of safety when used to treat some high-risk heart attack patients.

AZ’s phase 3 study examined heart attack patients younger than 75 who didn’t have timely access to a blood vessel-unblocking procedure and instead took blood thinners to reduce the risk of follow-up attacks. Though more potent than clopidogrel, Brilinta (ticagrelor) didn’t increase the risk of major bleeding at the 30-day mark, suggesting the therapy is safe to use in tandem with other clot-busting products.

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The results affect “many” of the estimated 7 million people who suffer heart attacks each year, AstraZeneca said. In the past, patients often received clopidogrel “due to the previous lack of safety data for ticagrelor in this population,” study steering committee member Otavio Berwanger added in a statement.

Use of clot-busters post-heart attack is particularly common in lower- and middle-income countries where the vessel-unblocking procedure, known as percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI, isn’t available around the clock. But it’s also frequently used in some higher-income countries, the ACC noted in its own statement—Canada and Australia included.

Now, the new results have “the potential to be practice-changing,” Berwanger figures—as well as the potential to expand the blockbuster’s sales, a scenario AZ certainly wouldn’t mind as it works to finally swing back to growth.

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That’s not to say Brilinta hasn’t been expanding lately. Last year, it raked in $1.08 billion, surging 29% in constant exchange rates from the $839 million the year before. Still, company execs admitted in 2016 that the product wouldn’t live up to the potential they once predicted before Brilinta flopped a pair of indication-seeking studies.