Amgen optimistic despite sales saying otherwise
- It was a disappointing quarter for Amgen as both old stalwart Enbrel (etanercept) and new hopeful Repatha (evolocumab) had lukewarm results. Revenues overall were down in the first quarter at $5.4 billion, from $5.5 billion last year.
- Despite not having to pay a royalty on the rheumatoid arthritis drug any longer, Enbrel sales fell 15% year over year to $1.18 billion. Now top-earner Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) was up only 2% at $1.2 billion.
- Repatha continues to struggle, despite positive cardiovascular outcomes data. The cholesterol drug brought in only $49 million, up from $16 million in the first quarter of 2016. Amgen said the drug had volume growth of 14% in the U.S. and 28% in Europe.
TNF blocker Enbrel was one of the drugs that put Amgen on the map and has long been a major driver for the big biotech's bottom line. Yet, it can be argued that the drug is starting to show the signs of age as it faces increased competition from both biosimilars of other TNF blockers as well as newer anti-inflammatory drugs like Novartis Cosentyx (secukinmab) and Eli Lilly's Taltz (ixekizumab).
But Amgen insists the poor first quarter performance of the drug is just a blip. "I would start by emphasizing that we see no trend break versus 2016... I don't want you to misinterpret long-term dynamics based on some quarter one peculiarities," said Amgen's head of global commercial operations Tony Hooper on the first quarter earnings calls Wednesday evening.
Hooper went on to explain the company, as well as prescription drug tracker IMS, saw weakness in the rheumatology and dermatology sectors during the quarter. "As a matter of fact, on a year-over-year basis, unit growth in rheumatology appeared to slow from 9% in the first quarter of 2016 to 2% in this quarter, and from 25% to 9% in the dermatology segment for the same period," he said.
Amgen and IMS attribute this weakness to the number of shipping days in the quarter, high patient-out-of-pocket costs, as well as the Medicare Part D donut hole. But the big biotech said its share of the markets have stayed relatively flat, with its rheumatology share declining one percentage point to 32% of the market and its dermatology share dropping two percentage points to 15%.
Hooper emphasized Amgen is optimistic about Enbrel's continued success throughout the rest of the year and said "long-term dynamics are intact."
Analysts took Amgen's word for it. "While Enbrel was a disappointment, the company did a good job highlighting month-by-month trends to imply the franchise should stabilize through rest of year. Barring ongoing decline, it seems like the company is in good position for the rest of the year," wrote Piper Jaffray analyst Josh Schimmer in a note to clients.
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