AZ's Zoladex could stave off early menopause in breast cancer patients

CHICAGO--Now that the Pfizer ($PFE) takeover AstraZeneca ($AZN) fought to avoid is on the rocks--at least for the time being--the pressure's on the British drugmaker to deliver strong growth on its own. And while much of the attention is focused on its pipeline, leading cancer drug Zoladex may be able to chip in, too, with new data suggesting it could help prevent infertility in some breast cancer patients receiving chemo.

Halle Moore

In a Phase III study presented Friday at ASCO, women who received Zoladex, a hormone suppressant, along with standard chemotherapy were 64% less likely to develop premature ovarian failure compared with women who received chemo alone. They also showed improved survival--women receiving Zoladex were 50% more likely to be alive four years after starting their chemo than those in the standard arm--and were more likely to have successful pregnancies.

"Preserving fertility is a common and important concern among younger women diagnosed with cancer, and these findings offer a simple, new option for women with breast cancer, or possibly other cancers," lead study author Halle Moore of the Cleveland Clinic said in a statement.

As Reuters notes, about 25% of breast cancers occur in women under the age of 50, affecting between 40,000 and 50,000 women every year. In half of these patients, menopause resulting from chemo can be permanent. Use in preventing ovarian failure could provide a nice bump for Zoladex, sales of which reached $996 million in 2013 after hitting $1.09 billion the year prior.

But while the results were encouraging, more research is needed to understand Zoladex's role in treating ER-negative breast cancer, Moore said.

AstraZeneca has some big shareholder promises to keep now that it's warded off Pfizer's unsolicited advances. In rejecting the merger, the drugmaker vowed to grow sales 75% over 10 years, hitting $45 billion in 2023.

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