LONDON– AstraZeneca PLC said its blood thinner Brilinta was no more effective than aspirin at preventing major heart problems in stroke patients, denting the company’s growth ambitions for one of its key drugs.
The U.K.-based drugmaker had hoped the large clinical trial would open up a new slice of the blood-thinner market for Brilinta, which is already approved for treating patients recovering from a heart attack.
AstraZeneca said that while patients who took Brilinta in the 90 days after an initial stroke were slightly less likely to have a heart attack, a further stroke or to die, the trend wasn’t strong enough to show statistical significance.
The disappointing result puts pressure on the company’s ambition to increase sales of Brilinta to $3.5 billion by 2023, an important plank in its overall target of nearly doubling revenue to $45 billion in the same period. It unveiled those goals to fend off an unwanted takeover approach from U.S. rival Pfizer Inc. nearly two years ago.
Analysts already considered AstraZeneca’s targets bullish. On average, they expect Brilinta to make around $1.9 billion in revenue by 2020, and few foresee sales of more than $2.5 billion by 2023.
Ludovic Helfgott, head of AstraZeneca’s Brilinta franchise, said that while the stroke-patient outcome was a “disappointment,” the company had “many other reservoirs of potential growth” for the drug, adding that it didn’t reduce the company’s long-term sales expectations for Brilinta. Analyst expectations for additional sales for stroke were modest, around $500 million, owing to the availability of cheap generics to ward off blood clotting in stroke patients.
AstraZeneca shares were up 0.6% at GBP39.39 ($56) in afternoon London trading.
The company is plowing heavy investment into a mammoth clinical-trial program involving 80,000 patients with various ailments in an effort to expand Brilinta’s use beyond the group for which it was first approved: those who had recently suffered a heart attack.
It has already recorded one success, in showing that Brilinta effectively reduced the risk of serious heart problems in patients with a history of heart attack, and not just those who had suffered one in the previous year. It is also testing the drug in patients with peripheral arterial disease–a condition in which narrow vessels restrict blood flow to the limbs–and diabetes. Results for those trials are expected later this year and in the first half of 2017, respectively.
As well as Brilinta, AstraZeneca is relying on a string of new cancer drugs, as well as treatments for diabetes and respiratory conditions, to drive growth.
Write to Denise Roland at Denise.Roland@wsj.com