AstraZeneca has dumped billions into Brilinta R&D, but will it ever pay off?

AstraZeneca's Parthenon program for Brilinta has been a hit-and-miss affair despite $3.7 billion in R&D costs. (AstraZeneca)

With a series of late-stage trial readouts in the past few years, AstraZeneca has invested heavily in outcomes R&D for its stalwart clotbuster Brilinta. But there's big problem with that approach, which was once one of CEO Pascal Soriot's pet projects.

AstraZeneca may never see a return on investment for the billions it's dumped into the drug.

With an estimated $5.4 billion in sunk costs in Brilinta, AstraZeneca will likely never turn a profit on the blood thinner with generics expected to hit the market in 2024 and marketing costs swallowing up any increase in the drug's already disappointing sales, EvaluatePharma said Tuesday. 

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Much of that R&D expense has been tied to AstraZeneca's Parthenon program, Evaluate reported, which has turned out a suite of trial data, including top-line results from the phase 3 Thales study released Monday. 

Parthenon—and its six outcomes trials for Brilinta—has already swallowed $3.7 billion in R&D costs with an additional $1.7 billion tied up in more than 80 investigator-sponsored trials, Evaluate said. Of the six Parthenon studies, two have led to label updates, while another two were called "clear failures" by Evaluate. 

RELATED: AstraZeneca dials back $3.5B Brilinta hopes after trial data fall short

"Companies risk these sums for the rewards of owning a life-saving drug, but it is hard to argue that in this case the spend was worth it," Evaluate said. 

In the most recent Parthenon trial––phase 3 Thales–– twice-daily Brilinta on top of aspirin significantly cut the risk of stroke or death over aspirin alone in patients who had suffered a stroke or transient ischemic attack and began treatment within 24 hours, according to top-line data released Monday. 

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