AstraZeneca’s cancer drug disappoints as potential COVID-19 treatment

(Reuters) – AstraZeneca’s blood cancer treatment, Calquence, failed to improve survival rates and prevent lung failure in patients hospitalised with symptoms of COVID-19, the drugmaker said on Thursday, citing results from mid-stage trials.

The company called the outcome “disappointing”. It said its other efforts to combat the pandemic – a possible vaccine developed with Oxford University, and an experimental antibody-based COVID-19 treatment – were not affected.

AstraZeneca is among leading contenders in the race for a working vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Competitor Pfizer Inc this week published efficacy data that were seen as a major milestone on the way to a global immunisation campaign next year.

Calquence, chemically called acalabrutinib, belongs to a class of drugs called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitors which can suppress autoimmune diseases – conditions where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body itself.

COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms including pneumonia are believed to suffer from an overreaction of the immune system known as cytokine storm.

FILE PHOTO: AstraZeneca’s logo is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

AstraZeneca had aimed to test whether Calquence, which suppresses certain elements of the immune system, can contain this immune response.

Results from the trials will not impact approved indications or pending approvals for Calquence in patients with blood cancers, the British company said.

The drug, which is already used to treat certain types of cancers of the blood, is an approved treatment of adult patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in the United States and several other countries.


Reporting by Aakash Jagadeesh Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva, Ludwig Burger and Jan Harvey


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