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AstraZeneca forced to pull two clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease drug

Iain Withers
The FTSE 100 giant said an independent panel had judged the drug lanabecestat - which was being tested in patients - would not meet its clinical objectives in both trials

AstraZeneca has been forced to abandon two clinical trials for a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease - a medicine the firm had once hoped would hit $5bn (£3.8bn) in annual sales.

The FTSE 100 giant said an independent panel had judged the drug lanabecestat - which was being tested in patients - would not meet its clinical objectives in both trials.

The news is a blow to both AstraZeneca and its joint venture partner, US drug firm Eli Lilly. The duo entered a $500m joint venture to develop the drug four years ago.

At the time AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said he hoped the medicine would ultimately hit $5bn in sales.

AstraZeneca 1-day share price

Lanabecestat belongs to a class of drugs known as ‘BACE inhibitors’, which are designed to close a biological tap that produces toxic proteins linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

BACE inhibitors have had mixed results in clinical trials, with rival US drug firm Merck also suffering a setback for its candidate medicine earlier this year. However others are pressing ahead in the field, including US firm Biogen.

Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal illness that causes progressive decline in memory and other deterioration in aspects of mental function.

It is the most common form of dementia, which effects an estimated 50 million people around the world. The number of cases is expected to more than double to 132 million by 2050.

Dementia | Read more

The AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly drug had shown early promise, leading to a fast-track designation awarded by US medicine regulators in 2016, but this failed to lead to clinically significant outcomes. The firms said the drug was not found to be unsafe.

AstraZeneca said the discontinued trials would not have a material impact on its financial guidance for this year. AstraZeneca shares fell 0.8pc in morning trading.

AstraZeneca’s Menelas Panagalos said: "We are saddened by this outcome as our researchers are working tirelessly to find a solution for the many people who are impacted by this devastating disease.”

“Lilly remains dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease research as we have been for the last three decades,” said Eli Lilly’s Daniel Skovronsky. “We won’t give up on finding a solution for Alzheimer’s patients.”