AstraZeneca scores an unexpected win.
Photograph by Andrew Yates AFP—Getty Images

An unexpected cancer trial success got investors' attention.

By Sy Mukherjee
May 12, 2017

Shares of U.K.-based pharma giant AstraZeneca—an $80 billion-plus company by market value—skyrocketed more than 9% in Friday trading following unexpectedly impressive and early clinical trial results for a key drug in lung cancer patients.

The treatment, durvalumab (sold under the brand name Imfinzi), is part of a lucrative new class of cancer immunotherapy drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors” being chased by drug titans like Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer, and Roche. AstraZeneca was considerably behind all of those other companies in getting its drug FDA-approved; but the new trial results could give it a big advantage.

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“These are highly encouraging results for patients with locally-advanced lung cancer for whom surgery is not an option,” said Sean Bohen, an AstraZeneca executive vice president, in a statement.

Wall Street echoed the optimism. “In theory, this could open a market opportunity of $1.75 billion to $3.5 billion (or more) for the drug, which is not included in our current forecasts,” wrote Deutsche Bank analysts in a research note.

The cancer immunotherapy field (comprised of therapies that use the body’s immune system to fight the disease) has been a roller coaster over the last few years. Bristol-Myers once seemed like it could dominate the space before big clinical trial setbacks for its treatment, Opdivo; Merck’s Keytruda has been on a roll, including a key FDA approval this week for treating advanced lung cancer.

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