Glaxo to unveil key drug breakthrough as giants battle to conquer cancer
PHARMACEUTICAL giant GlaxoSmithKline will unveil crucial research this week that may accelerate a plan to catapult the company into the centre ground of global cancer treatment.
The firm will go head to head with rival AstraZeneca on Saturday at a scientific conference in Barcelona when it will publicise findings for its ovarian cancer drug.
Glaxo said in July that Zejula, now available to about 15 per cent of ovarian cancer sufferers, could have a wider application after trials revealed a ‘statistically significant improvement’. Some 300,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.
GlaxoSmithKline will unveil crucial research this week that may accelerate a plan to catapult the company into the centre ground of global cancer treatment
Widespread approval from the medical community as a result of the presentation would be a major development in Glaxo chief executive Emma Walmsley’s strategy to refocus the business on its once dwindling oncology division.
Zejula is a type of drug known as a PARP inhibitor. The PARP enzyme helps to repair the body’s cells under normal conditions. Zejula prevents the repair of cancer cells after chemotherapy.
Glaxo is expected to emphasise next weekend that the potential of PARP inhibitors to treat ovarian cancer and other cancers is under-appreciated.
Citi’s highly respected healthcare analyst Andrew Baum appeared to agree with that analysis in an in-depth report this month.He put forward the prospect of an accelerated programme of research to enable it to be used to combat other forms of the disease and to test it in combination with other drugs.
‘We believe that PARP inhibition has the potential to be foundational across multiple indications, beyond ovarian and prostate cancer,’ he said.
AstraZeneca has a similar plan to widen the use of its own ovarian cancer treatment Lynparza, another PARP inhibitor, which it developed in partnership with US pharmaceutical giant Merck.
AstraZeneca already has an impressive roster of cancer drugs, three of which are on their way to ‘blockbuster’ status – the industry phrase describing products with revenues of $1 billion (£800 million).
Momentum at the business has sent its market value soaring close to £100 billion in recent weeks.
The firm will go head to head with rival AstraZeneca on Saturday at a scientific conference in Barcelona when it will publicise findings for its ovarian cancer drug
But all eyes have been on former L’Oreal executive Walmsley who sent a frisson through the drugs industry when she declared in 2017 that the company would refocus on cancer treatments. She plundered talent including chief scientific officer Hal Barron from Calico, the biotech research business backed by Google.
Last year, the pair made an audacious £4 million swoop on Tesaro which further stoked the firm’s interest in oncology.
Walmsley has also initiated plans to spin off Glaxo’s consumer division – one of its three divisions alongside pharmaceutical which includes oncology and vaccines – and merge it with the equivalent business at Pfizer. If a float of the newly combined consumer businesses is successful, it would automatically join the FTSE 100.
Glaxo, worth £83 billion, is still regarded as a challenger in cancer treatment after previous chief executive Sir Andrew Witty turned his back on the competitive market. But the acquisition of Tesaro, when added to its in-house research pipeline, means Walmsley has increased its cancer treatments under development from eight to 17 in the last 12 months.
If the wider application of Zejula gets approval, Glaxo is expected to apply for a licence in the US by the end of the year and in Europe in the new year. Two other applications in the pipeline could mean Glaxo may have three new cancer drugs on the market by the end of next year from a standing start.
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