September 4, 2013 / 6:26 AM / 6 years ago

AstraZeneca reverses $285 million charge as cancer trial starts

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca (AZN.L) has reversed a previous pre-tax impairment charge of $285 million (183 million pounds) after launching a final-stage Phase III clinical trial for the experimental drug olaparib in ovarian cancer.

The drug had earlier looked unlikely to get to market but confidence in its prospects has revived following more recent tests. AstraZeneca said on Wednesday that the reversal of the charge would be excluded from core earnings.

Britain’s second-biggest drugmaker took the $285 million hit in December 2011 under its previous chief executive, David Brennan, when it decided not to progress olaparib into final development.

But new analysis has shown the drug could help certain patients with a particular mutation of the so-called BRCA gene.

The finding underscores the increasingly focused nature of cancer drug development, in which treatments are tailored to the genetic profile of particular sub-groups of patients.

Olaparib is one of the products in which new CEO Pascal Soriot has taken a keen interest as he tries to accelerate AstraZeneca’s oncology programmes.

Soriot - who joined from the world’s biggest cancer drug company, Roche ROG.VX, last year - views oncology as a key area for revitalising the drugmaker’s currently thin pipeline of late-stage developmental medicines.

The company badly needs new products to revive its sales line because its current top sellers have lost, or are about to lose, patent protection.

AstraZeneca previously said at an investor day in March that it expected to start a Phase III trial on olaparib sometime in 2013.

Myriad Genetics (MYGN.O) is providing companion diagnostics to test for BRCA mutation for use with olaparib. BRCA genes belong to a type of genes known as tumour suppressors and their mutation has been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Cowell

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