Stroke drug failure mars AstraZeneca joy

Anglo-Swedish drugs giant AstraZeneca posted on Thursday a 29.8-percent leap in third-quarter net profit, but the results were overshadowed by news that a key drug in development has been abandoned.

AstraZeneca shares sank 6.32 percent on the London Stock Exchange to 3,306 pence in afternoon trade after the group said that development of a drug, aimed at reducing disability caused by strokes, had ended because it failed the final stages of clinical


Net profit jumped by almost a third to $1.592 billion in the three months to September 30, 2006, AstraZeneca said in an official earnings release.

The figure compared with $1.230 billion in the third quarter of 2005.

Group sales leapt 12.6 percent to $6.516 billion, while operating profit climbed 24 percent to $2.106 billion.

Analysts’ consensus forecasts had been for sales of $6.51 billion and operating profit of $2.07 billion.

Profits were driven by its five key growth drugs – Nexium for acid stomach, cholesterol lowerer Crestor, breast cancer treatment Arimidex, asthma drug Symbicort and Seroquel for schizophrenia – which generated combined sales growth of 21 percent.

AstraZeneca said earlier on Thursday that it had discontinued development of NXY-059, a compound which had failed to demonstrate any benefit in reducing disability in people who suffered the most common form of stroke.

If the drug had ever reached the marketplace it was tipped by industry analysts to generate more than $1.0 billion in sales.

“While today’s announcement of the clinical trial results for NXY-059 is disappointing, I remain committed to maintaining this operating and financial momentum and to strengthening the pipeline,” chief executive David Brennan said.

Pharmaceutical companies refer to their portfolio of drugs that are under development as their “pipeline”. Drugs in the late stages must complete final rounds of clinical trials and gain regulatory approval before entering the market.

NXY-059 was a neuroprotectant, designed to protect the brain cells from damaging agents.

“These clinical trial results, while not without precedent given the challenging nature of the science, are disappointing for patients looking for new treatments for stroke and for AstraZeneca as we seek to build our research and development pipeline,” said John Patterson, executive director of development for AstraZeneca.

Patterson indicated that the result had effectively dashed hopes that this approach would ever generate an effective treatment for stroke.


Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland

Norway, which has suspended the use of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine until further notice, will send 216,000 doses to Sweden and Iceland at their request, the Norwegian health ministry said Thursday.

Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland
Empty vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

“I’m happy that the vaccines we have in stock can be put to use even if the AstraZeneca vaccine has been paused in Norway,” Health Minister Bent Høie said in a statement.

The 216,000 doses, which are currently stored in Norwegian fridges, have to be used before their expiry dates in June and July.

Sweden will receive 200,000 shots and Iceland 16,000 under the expectation they will return the favour at some point. 

“If we do resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we will get the doses back as soon as we ask,” Høie said.

Like neighbouring Denmark, Norway suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab on March 11 in order to examine rare but potentially severe side effects, including blood clots.

Among the 134,000 AstraZeneca shots administered in Norway before the suspension, five cases of severe thrombosis, including three fatal ones, had been registered among relatively young people in otherwise good health. One other person died of a brain haemorrhage.

On April 15, Norway’s government ignored a recommendation from the Institute of Public Health to drop the AstraZeneca jab for good, saying it wanted more time to decide.

READ MORE: Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine 

The government has therefore set up a committee of Norwegian and international experts tasked with studying all of the risks linked to the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which is also suspected of causing blood clots.

Both are both based on adenovirus vector technology. Denmark is the only European country to have dropped the AstraZeneca
vaccine from its vaccination campaign, and said on Tuesday it would “lend” 55,000 doses to the neighbouring German state of Schleswig-Holstein.