That sure was a hot alert sitting in my inbox this morning.
In looking carefully at the AstraZeneca ($AZN) press release, it seems that the details are as follows:
Much of the focus in the news is on the RA indication, although AstraZeneca do not have a franchise in this area. All of their inflammation products on the market have been in the respiratory, not immunology, area as far as I can remember, making them an odd choice for a partner. Still, AZ have had a few flops recently (Iressa being a spectacular one in oncology) and with a weak pipeline, they are desperate for some near term success to drive revenues sooner rather than later. The recent announcement that 8,000 jobs will be cut is indicative of much cost cutting is going on.
Previously, we have discussed the Rigel RA data when the initial phase IIb data was disappointing and failed to meet at least one primary endpoint according to Rigel's press release last July. This raised alarm bells in many Pharma licensing departments and significantly raised the risk for fostamatinib in RA.
That said, the data for fostamatinib in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), are much more promising as discussed post ASCO last year. The agent is a SYK inhibitor and updated results presented by Dr Friedberg et al., at ASH in December confirmed that the data is still holding up.
All of the analyst news seems to be rehashes of the joint press release focusing on RA, which of course, is a much bigger, but higher risk, indication than CLL. In looking at the Rigel pipeline, fostamatinib was the last product seeking a partner:
It may well be that in the final analysis, the CLL data will turn out to be more solid than the RA data if the phase II trials are anything to go by, but time will tell. The good thing is that AZ have an oncology franchise, albeit not in hematologic malignancies.