Friday, January 12, 2007

AZ-BMS Diabetes Deal: Two Paths for Big Pharma

If there is a schism among Big Pharma it is between those companies clinging on to the notion that pharma's future role is--as it is today--as a massive marketer of mass-market drugs, and those that see specialism as a means to avoid imploding under the weight of their own infrastructures.
The diabetes deal announced yesterday by AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers illustrates the pursuit of each strategy: AstraZeneca, eager to play in what one pharma CEO described this week as "the disease of our epoch," has paid BMS $100 million upfront for worldwide (except Japan) co-development and co-commercialization rights to two late-clinical stage diabetes projects. For BMS the move is another big step back from primary care marketing and confirmation that the company's future lies along a specialist path.

AZ will fund the majority (75%) of development costs through 2009, the companies said, after which costs will be split 50-50. Should each of the two drugs--saxagliptin, a DPP-4 inhibitor currently in Phase III and dapagliflozin, a SGLT2 inhibitor in Phase IIb--reach global markets BMS will earn $650 million in pre-commercial milestones and could land an additional $300 million per drug in sales milestones. Post launch expenses and profits will be split evenly on a global basis and BMS will manufacture both products and book sales.

Acquisition of diabetes projects to shore up its primary care portfolio has been high on AZ's agenda since the PPAR agonist tesaglitazar (Galida) crashed out of clinical trials in May 2006; ironically the decision to yank Galida was based on thought-leader and regulatory reaction to BMS's own PPAR, muraglitazar (Pargluva) and intimations that Galida was in for similar treatment. Pargluva was killed after analysis published in JAMA by Cleveland Clinic CV chair Steve Nissen, MD, questioned the safety of PPARs and FDA said further long-term clinical studies would be needed to approve the product. (See "Anything but Academic: Lessons from the PPAR Failures," The RPM Report, June 2006.)

By the time saxagliptin hits the market the best AZ and BMS can hope for is only two entrenched competitors: Merck's Januvia and Novartis' Galvus will likely await. Dapagliflozen is a sodium glucose co-transporter-2 inhibitor, which blocks the re-absorption of glucose from urine in the kidney; a more novel, yet riskier prospect.