AstraZeneca depression drug fails test

City A.M. Reporter
AN EXPERIMENTAL antidepressant from AstraZeneca and Targacept failed to meet the goal of changing a key depression rating score in the first of a series of pivotal clinical trials, in a setback for both firms.

The result, announced by the companies yesterday, relates to the so-called Renaissance 3 Phase III study into TC-5214, a flexible dose trial conducted in Europe.

TC-5214 -- which is viewed by analysts as a high-risk, high-reward project -- is designed to work in a novel way by modulating neuronal nicotinic receptors in the brain. Over-stimulation of these receptors is thought to be associated with depression. AstraZeneca agreed in 2009 to pay as much as $1.24bn (£771m) for rights to the drug, including an upfront payment of $200m, and TC-5214 has been one of the few potential bright spots in AstraZeneca’s pipeline.

The setback could dent confidence in the company’s line-up of new drugs, although many analysts have avoided banking on the medicine’s success.The success of TC-5214 is more critical for Targacept, whose share price performance is linked closely to the fate of the new medicine. The drug is the product of lengthy research at Targacept, a small US drugmaker that began life as part of RJ Reynolds Tobacco and has for years been using its understanding of nicotine to develop experimental treatments for depression.