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AstraZeneca Plunges After Setback in Crucial Lung-Cancer Drug Trial

  • Drug combination fails to meet key target in Mystic study
  • Trial to continue testing for improving life expectancy

AstraZeneca Plc plunged by a record after suffering a setback to its next-generation cancer medicine, hurting Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot’s ambition to join the league of the world’s five largest drugmakers.

A combination of two immuno-therapies -- part of a new class of drugs that activate the body’s defense system to attack tumors -- failed to do better than chemotherapy in checking the growth of lung tumors in some patients in the study dubbed Mystic, the U.K. drugmaker said in a statement on Thursday. The drugs were poised to generate more than $7 billion in sales by 2022, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg, and would have made the Imfinzi treatment into Astra’s best-selling medicine.

The failure calls into question Soriot’s ability to deliver on his growth strategy, put in place to keep the company independent when he rebuffed Pfizer Inc.’s $117 billion takeover bid three years ago, and may make the firm vulnerable again. Imfinzi is the cornerstone of Astra’s cancer-drugs portfolio and its success is vital for the drugmaker to meet Soriot’s goal of boosting revenue to $45 billion by 2023.

“Not everything has gone the way we’d like it to go,” Soriot told reporters on a call. He pointed to results due in the first half of next year from the study that will show whether Imfinzi alone or in combination with a drug known as tremelimumab can help improve life expectancy. “The most important result is still to come.”

Stock Plummets

Shares of Astra plummeted almost 17 percent, wiping out 10.8 billion pounds ($14.2 billion) in market value. The stock traded down to 42.79 pounds as of 10:42 a.m. in London trading. The stock had soared to a record last month in...