Bristol-Myers surprises with continued Opdivo growth
- While Bristol-Myers Squibb warned earlier this year the entrance of Merck & Co.’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) into the earlier lines of the lung cancer market could hamper Opdivo’s (nivolumab) growth this year, the company reversed that position during a first quarter earnings call Thursday.
- CEO Giovanni Caforio pleased investors when he told them that Opdivo was stabilizing in lung cancer and that they can expect growth from the immunotherapy in 2017.
- Bristol-Myers reported earnings of $4.9 billion for the quarter, up 12% year-over-year. Sales of Opdivo jumped 60% to $1.13 billion, despite increased competition in the PD-1/L1 space and a setback in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) — widely considered the most lucrative of all the cancer markets.
The astronomical growth of Opdivo and reassurances the company can continue to grow the franchise was exactly the shot in the arm that Bristol-Myers needed. Company stock closed up a hair over 3.5% at the end of Thursday trading.
While the company became somewhat of a darling when Opdivo was first launched, it fell out of favor last year after a surprise failure in first-line NSCLC made investors and analysts question the endurance of the product. Sine then, the big pharma has rejiggered its management in an effort to appease activist investors and has been fighting off rumors it’s now a takeout target for some of its big pharma peers.
"In the U.S., while we have seen some share loss in lung cancer, our share has shown signs of stabilization in recent weeks," said Caforio on the call.
"The first-line landscape has become very dynamic, and the outlook for this market is continually evolving. Our teams have done a great job maintaining our position, and we believe we have the most comprehensive program in first-line."
The company considers its lung strategy to be "broad" at this point and is testing several different options beyond just Opdivo alone, or just Opdivo with the CTLA4 inhibitor Yervoy (ipilimumab). The company is relying heavily on combination therapies and is testing combinations of immuno-oncology treatments together, pairings of Immuno-oncology drugs with chemotherapy, as well as triple combinations of immuo-oncology, immuno-oncology and chemotherapy.
"We think the approach at Bristol-Myers Squibb that includes I-O/I-O and I-O/chemo and I-O/targeted drugs gives us a broad and diverse and balanced approach to how we're going to go after lung cancer. And I think that there may well be certain patients that are going to benefit from I-O monotherapy, I-O/I-O, and I-O/chemotherapy. I don't think there will be a one-size-fits-all approach to this disease," added Thomas Lynch, Bristol-Myers newly appointed chief scientific officer.
Lynch emphasized Bristol-Myers is committed to its CTLA-4 compound, but is also interested in other mechanisms including IDO. The company picked up an IDO compound in its $1.25 billion buyout of Flexus in 2015. It recently announced results from a trial of that drug in combination with Opdivo and expects to announce early results of Opdivo in combination with Incyte's IDO compound at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in June.
While a major part of the call focused on the company’s prospects in the closely watched lung cancer market, Caforio emphasized there is more to the immuno-oncology portfolio than just lung cancer.
"Over the next 12 months, we are also anticipating important data readouts for Opdivo and Yervoy in renal cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma and small-cell lung cancer," he said. "We also have many important opportunities in a range of other tumor types. This is particularly true with respect to our next wave of I-O assets, with 10 new mechanisms in addition to PD-1 and CTLA-4 in clinical development."
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