AstraZeneca's Bevespi takes discouraging hit in head-to-head test against GlaxoSmithKline

AstraZeneca's Bevespi failed to top GSK's Anoro in a head-to-head battle in COPD patients. (AstraZeneca)

AstraZeneca’s strategy for taking on GlaxoSmithKline in the respiratory department hasn’t been playing out as planned. Just witness the latest failure: Its COPD med Bevespi fell flat in a head-to-head test against GSK's Anoro.

Thursday, the company said a study comparing AZ’s Bevespi Aerosphere with GSK’s Anoro Ellipta didn’t come through as hoped. Bevespi failed to beat Anoro at one key measure of breathing ability and fell short of its rival in another.

RELATED: AZ counts on inhaler tech to boost respiratory newcomer Bevespi

AstraZeneca was quick to point out that the performance was unexpected; Colin Reisner, company head of respiratory global medicines development, said in a statement the trial was “inconsistent with previous data,” and “a full analysis is underway to understand and characterize these findings."

The two drugs compete in the crowded field of LAMA/LABA combination drugs, which are designed to keep airways open and reduce the amount of mucus they produce. AstraZeneca, though, has been relying on its co-suspension technology—which helps keep dosing consistent for combo drugs in a single inhaler—to help Bevespi stand apart since it launched in the U.S. market in 2016.

That's an effort yielding little so far, though. Last year, Bevespi came up with just $16 million in U.S. sales, while Anoro raked in £342 million ($439 million). But a win over Anoro could have helped.

RELATED: AstraZeneca's Fasenra fails its second COPD trial, handing rival GSK a win

And unfortunately for AstraZeneca, this COPD trial miss wasn’t its first this year. In May, the company’s severe asthma newcomer, Fasenra, flopped its second of two studies in COPD, failing to significantly cut down on episodes when symptoms suddenly worsened.

Those misses kept AZ from taking on GSK, whose rival drug Nucala already boasted a COPD study win. Whether Glaxo can actually snag an approval, though, still remains to be seen: Late last month, an FDA panel of experts voted 16-3 against a COPD green light for the therapy.