Commercial AstraZeneca abandons phase 2 sickle cell medication and pays...

AstraZeneca abandons phase 2 sickle cell medication and pays $185 million to rejoin the oral obesity gold rush market


AstraZeneca is reentering the obesity drug market through a strategic acquisition, signaling a renewed commitment to this therapeutic area. After discontinuing its own oral GLP-1 agonist, AZD0186, earlier this year, the pharmaceutical giant has entered into an agreement with Eccogene, involving a substantial payment of $185 million. The small molecule acquired, ECC5004, is believed to possess qualities that can carve out a niche in a competitive market targeted by industry heavyweights like Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Pfizer.

The announcement coincided with AstraZeneca’s release of its third-quarter earnings report, which included removing sickle cell disease and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) trials from its phase 2 pipeline. However, the spotlight was on the Eccogene deal, underscoring AstraZeneca’s strategic shift.

The decision to abandon its previous foray into the oral GLP-1 market was prompted by AstraZeneca’s perception that AZD0186 lacked sufficient differentiation. In contrast, ECC5004, currently in an early-phase clinical trial for Type 1 diabetes, is viewed as a promising alternative to existing injectable therapies for conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Sharon Barr, EVP of Biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, expressed optimism about ECC5004’s potential, stating, “We believe this oral GLP-1RA molecule could offer alternatives to current injectable therapies both as a potential monotherapy as well as in combination for cardiometabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, as well as for obesity.”

While limited public evidence supports Barr’s optimism, AstraZeneca cited preliminary phase 1 results indicating a differentiated clinical profile for ECC5004, demonstrating good tolerability and promising reductions in glucose and body weight compared to a placebo. However, specific numerical data supporting these claims has not been disclosed.

AstraZeneca’s confidence in ECC5004 is reflected in its substantial financial commitment to Eccogene. The deal includes an upfront payment of $185 million and potential future payments totaling up to $1.8 billion, contingent on achieving clinical, regulatory, and commercial milestones. The agreement grants AstraZeneca global rights to ECC5004, with Eccogene retaining the right to co-develop and co-commercialize the molecule in China.

AstraZeneca’s representative emphasized the differentiation of ECC5004 compared to the company’s previous GLP-1 candidate, citing its once-daily dosing regimen and favorable absorption characteristics. Soriot also hinted at potential synergies by combining ECC5004 with AstraZeneca’s existing portfolio, citing diabetes drug Farxiga and investigational hypertension drug baxdrostat as potential partners.

In addition to the Eccogene deal, AstraZeneca announced changes to its pipeline, removing the PNH program (vemircopan) due to efficacy concerns while continuing studies in other indications. The sickle cell candidate, bispecific nanobody tarperprumig, was dropped as part of a strategic portfolio prioritization, ceasing a phase 2a trial focused on acute and chronic complications.

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