JPMorgan Healthcare Conference Highlights: Bristol-Myers Squibb


The JPMorgan Healthcare Conference currently under way in San Francisco is arguably the most important event of the entire year for the health care sector. This is one of the rarest opportunities for biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies to open up about where they've been and where they're headed, so it pays to take notice.

One company in particular that I had my eyes on was big pharma Bristol-Myers Squibb . Following the massive failure of BMS-986094 -- the hepatitis-C compound acquired when it purchased Inhibitex for $2.5 billion last January that was discontinued due to safety concerns -- I was very interested in what CEO Lamberto Andreotti had to say about the future of his company. To say I'm disappointed with what this worst CEO of 2012 nominee had to say yesterday might be an understatement.

What's comical is that it only took Andreotti three sentences before the excuses began to fly -- in this case that a cold was going to potentially cut short his presentation.

All kidding aside, Bristol's focus is clearly on distancing itself from blood thinner Plavix, which lost patent protection in May and had been a $5-billion-per-year drug, and to focus on its recently approved drugs including life-changing blood thinner Eliquis, which it developed with Pfizer , and its SGLT-2 inihibitor for Type 2 diabetes, Forxiga, which it developed with AstraZeneca .

Andreotti hit on the key point that in less than two months Eliquis was approved to treat atrial fibrillation in Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States. As I noted in recent weeks, Eliquis has serious blockbuster potential considering that it mopped the floor with warfarin in every side-by-side comparison, including efficacy and safety.

Bristol may not be as lucky when it comes to Forxiga, which was recently approved in Europe. Although it's the first inhibitor of its kind to gain approval for type 2 diabetes, there are numerous competitors waiting in the wings with stellar results. Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals is bringing its SGLT-2 inhibitor, Invokana, before the FDA panel later this week. In trial results, Invokana was more effective than placebo in reducing A1C levels after 18 weeks, and, as the Fool's biotech guru Brian Orelli noted, it cleaned up in a head-to-head trial versus Merck's Januvia.

Beyond these two drugs, I expected to hear a lot about what's coming down the pipeline for Bristol. Instead, we received a little information about the company's focus on its immuno-oncology line of drugs, but were largely left out in the cold on how Bristol intends to generate meaningful growth.

Within the immuno-oncology segment, Andreotti focused his attention on FDA-approved metastatic melanoma drug Yervoy and late-stage candidates Nivolumab and Elotuzumab. With respect to Yervoy, Bristol intends to focus its efforts on additional indications for the drug over the next few years. For Nivolumab, which is being tested in phase 3 trials for lung and renal cancer, as well as melanoma, and Elotuzumab, which is also in phase 3 trials for multiple myeloma, Andreotti merely glazed over their potential.

To summarize, it appears that Bristol is going to focus on promoting its newer drugs Eliquis and Forxiga and cross its fingers that the drugs launch well, while also continuing to exert its power within the diabetes space. I'm still not 100% sold on Bristol and AstraZeneca's $5.3 billion purchase of Amylin to get a hold of its diabetes line, and Bristol's "string of pearls" acquisition strategy has largely been a dud thus far. Aside from the expectation of a higher dividend payout in 2013, I'd call this presentation a dud as well.

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Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of, and buying calls on, Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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