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If all AstraZeneca did in the last year was team with Oxford University in a heroic quest to design, test, and deliver in record time one of the most successful vaccines in history, that would have been a lot.

Clearly that wasn't good enough. At a conference over the weekend, the company revealed it's also developed a treatment for breast cancer that massively reduces the risk of the disease progressing. Maybe the execs are happy now.

Back to Pre-Pandemic Basics

If an AstraZeneca exec was at a roulette table next to you, you'd be wise to put your chips on their number. In the years before the Covid pandemic hit, the company started placing bets on cancer treatments to grow its bottom line. By 2018, the England-based company reported its strongest sales growth in a decade.

A year later, in 2019, AstraZeneca placed one of its biggest bets, inking a $6.9 billion deal with Japanese drug developer Daiichi-Sankyo for shared rights to Enhertu, a hybrid chemotherapy-targeted therapy anti-cancer drug.

AstraZeneca believed Enhertu could be used to treat early stage diseases in addition to advanced cancer, but opted to begin with a breast cancer trial. The results blew all known science out of water:

  • Compared to the current standard breast cancer treatment Kadcyla, Enhertu reduced the risk of death or tumor progression by 72% in women with metastatic breast cancer, a three phase trial with 500 patients concluded.
  • During the trial, 76% of women treated with Enhertu exhibited no disease progression one year into treatment. For those treated with Kadcyla, that number was just 34%.

"We've never seen a magnitude of benefit like this in metastatic breast cancer before," Dave Fredrickson, AstraZeneca's head of oncology, told The Wall Street Journal. Jeffries analysts wrote the findings suggest Enhertu could soon treat other cancers, generating billions in annual sales.

What Selloff?: While markets were in sell-off mode Monday, due to growing fears over China's real estate sector, the Enhertu news meant Astrazeneca's stock was insulated from the turmoil. It went up 2%.