Crestor-Lipitor match-up results anticipated soon

It may be a case of wishful thinking, but Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson thinks AstraZeneca ($AZN) will soon unveil top-line results from its head-to-head trial pitting Crestor against Pfizer's ($PFE) top-selling Lipitor. And if Anderson is right, AstraZeneca would have good reason to get the news out ASAP. He figures Crestor has a 65% chance of beating Lipitor and only a 5% chance of falling short.

Of course, that 30% chance in the middle--that Crestor would simply equal Lipitor at fighting artery-clogging plaques--would amount to a loss for AstraZeneca. Lipitor goes off patent in November, meaning far cheaper generics will soon be competing with AstraZeneca's comparatively expensive Crestor. AstraZeneca needs Crestor to come out on top in this trial so it can tout its cholesterol-fighter as superior to Lipitor copies--and thus worth the premium price.

The key to Crestor's continued success is persuading payers that its branded-drug cost is justified in a post-Lipitor world. As Reuters notes, Crestor is seen as the most effective statin drug for cutting LDL cholesterol. So it already has something of an advantage. If the Saturn trial shows Crestor beating Lipitor, then that's another arrow in the quiver. "If Saturn doesn't show a clear benefit in [favor] of Crestor, payers could push back even harder against usage of the drug downstream of Lipitor generics," Anderson said.

- read the Reuters news