Johnson & Johnson relied on its portfolio of cancer drugs to sustain pharmaceutical sales growth in the first quarter, offsetting weakening demand and loss of exclusivity for older medicines.
Much of the reported sales strength was from J&J’s slate of multiple myeloma treatments, led by its mainstay drug Darzalex, sales of which grew by 22% to $2.3 billion. Improved supply of its new cell therapy Carvykti also helped, while a newly approved bispecific antibody for the blood cancer gained ground.
The company’s cancer drugs are key to its target of $60 billion in pharma sales by 2025 — 14% above last year’s sales — as J&J will need to offset slowing sales of its top-selling arthritis drug Stelara, which is set to lose patent protection later this year.
Pharma sales rose by a reported 4.2% to $13.4 billion during the quarter, the slowest growth across the company’s three divisions. “In pharmaceuticals, we maintain our expectation of delivering above-market growth in 2023,” chief financial officer Joseph Wolk said on a call Tuesday.
Sales of J&J’s inflammatory disease drug Remicade continue to erode, while competition cut into sales of its cancer treatment Imbruvica. The company does not expect any more material sales of its COVID-19 vaccine after completing contract obligations in the first quarter, Wolk said.
Executives did not offer any details Tuesday of an ongoing restructuring in the company’s infectious disease division that was reported by Fierce Pharma in February.
“We continually review our portfolio to prioritize the most transformational assets,” Wolk said, acknowledging J&J’s decision to stop development of a respiratory syncytial virus vaccine last month. The strategic U-turn followed a halt of a large HIV vaccine trial and retreat from hepatitis B research.
Even as the clock runs out on its market exclusivity, Stelara remained a source of growth for J&J. Sales increased by about 7% in the quarter. J&J currently assumes it will lose U.S. exclusivity in the third or fourth quarter, although Wolk said that estimate is “somewhat fluid” as no biosimilar is yet approved. (J&J and Amgen are currently in patent litigation.)
The pharma giant remains on track to spin out its consumer health division into a new standalone company called Kenvue by the end of 2023, assuming favorable market conditions, Wolk said. Sales in that division rose by 7.4% to $3.9 billion, while J&J’s medical devices recorded sales of $7.5 billion. Overall company sales rose by 5.6% to $24.7 billion in the first quarter.
The company reported a narrow loss because it recorded a one-time charge of $6.9 billion to account for litigation over its talc liabilities. The company expects claimants to eventually approve an $8.9 billion settlement paid out over 25 years. The liabilities will not pass to Kenvue but stay with J&J, Wolk said.