Sales of Celgene's multiple myeloma drug could triple if use broadens

There must be holiday cheer in the executive suite at biotech Celgene (CELG), where the stock is up 15% over last year. The Summit, N.J.-based company's cancer pill Revlimid generated $1.3 billion in sales last year. And it did so as a backup therapy for patients with the blood cancer multiple myeloma who don't respond to other options.

Now, the drug could see its sales triple after the company releases new data next week suggesting Revlimid could emerge as a first-time treatment for myeloma, Bloomberg reports, in a development that could push aside Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) drug Velcade. Bloomberg reports that preliminary information from a study of Revlimid as a first-line treatment indicates the drug might help patients live longer. The research also shows that Revlimid bested Velcade's results in a similar trial, the news agency says. Cancer experts say that if the results are in Revlimid's favor, it could "change the standard of care."

Findings will also show how well the pill works in long-term use and against other tumors. A preliminary report on one study, released in July, also suggested Revlimid helped patients live longer. Revlimid is also being tested in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, and in aysmptomatic multiple myeloma.

Data from more than 200 studies involving Celgene will be reported at the American Society of Hematology annual meeting Dec. 5 through Dec. 8. But given that Revlimid generated 59% of Celgene's revenue last year, analysts have been studying the early information and seem encouraged by it.

A Once-a-Day Advantage

Mike King of Merriman Curhan Ford told Bloomberg that broader use of Revlimid could boost sales to $4.4 billion by 2016, up from $1.3 billion in 2008. Analyst Mark Schoenebaum of Deutsche Bank, said that the better the data, "the more market share Revlimid gains." Even if Revlimid just ties with Velcade in terms of efficacy, it's a win for Celgene because, as a once-a-day pill, Revlimid is easier for patients to take and preferred over the twice-weekly infusion Velcade.

Already, Citigroup analyst Yaron Werber believes Celgene has gained about 30% of the first-line multiple myeloma market, even though it doesn't yet have U.S. approval for that use, with Velcade's share at about 40%.

Multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, affects about 20,000 Americans each year and kills two-thirds of patients within five years. The disease causes malignant plasma cells to form tumors and can affect the bones, immune system, kidneys and red blood cell count.

Revlimid, derived from the drug thalidomide, works by programming cancer cells to commit suicide and by creating an environment that stalls tumor reproduction. While thalidomide has risks, the risks of the cancer often outweighs them.

An HIV Booster for J&J

J&J markets Velcade outside the U.S. and last year reported a 47% increase in revenue to $787 million.

But J&J had some good news recently, too. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration granted J&J's Tibotec unit full approval of its HIV drug Intelence used to treat patients who have stopped responding to other treatments. This approval comes after J&J submitted more recent data showing that 60% of patients taking the drug for 48 weeks have had undetectable levels of HIV in their blood, compared with 38% of patients taking a placebo.

Intelence is a twice-daily tablet that blocks the enzyme HIV needs to multiply. It is already approved for use in 50 countries worldwide.

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