Pfizer anchors inflammation hopes in Xeljanz
- Despite increased competition in the anti-inflammatory space, Pfizer says that Xeljanz (tofacitinib) is the anchor of its growing Inflammation and Immunology unit, even as its own biosimilar is prepped to enter the market.
- Pfizer expects its I&I category to grow by 5% annually. The unit brought in $1.9 billion during the first half of 2016, largely due to the TNF inhibitor Enbrel (etanercept) which accounted for $1.5 billion in sales from outside the U.S. and Canada.
- "We have been and are continuing to be pioneers. And our view is to play a substantial leadership role in rheumatology, to grow our presence in gastroenterology and, through the acquisition of Anacor, build an increasing contribution in dermatology," said Pfizer's President of Worldwide R&D Mikael Dolsten in a meeting on Tuesday.
Pfizer is currently a small presence in the rapidly growing anti-inflammatory market — rheumatoid arthritis alone, for example, was worth more than $14 billion in 2013.
Yet the New York pharma giant has only two main drugs in the space: Enbrel (outside North America) and Xeljanz.
Xeljanz, which launched in 2012, had gotten off to a slow start, bringing in only $33 million during the first six months of 2013. The drug is the only oral in a sea of injectable TNF inhibitors which led Pfizer to believe it could be highly differentiated. Yet market access challenges have meant the drug is relegated to a third-, fourth- or fifth-line setting, according to Angela Hwang, the global president of Pfizer's I&I.
Hoping to jumpstart sales, Pfizer has been busy trying to grow Xeljanz through market access negotiations with payers. In the first half of 2016, those efforts appeared to pay off as the drug brought in $414 million.
Hwang also chalks growth up to guidelines issues by the American College of Rheumatology in 2015 that recommend Xeljanz be used as a second-line treatment.
"So these are massive prescribing habits that have to be changed. And it was because we were first in class with a completely novel mechanism in a therapy that has been so well entrenched that it [requires us to take] a multi-faceted approach to changing the ability and the desire and the comfort to be prescribed. But, we are seeing that. And I think that momentum is what is helping," added Hwang in a briefing with the media.
Going forward, Pfizer expects the rheumatology category to grow by 3% annually, while it expects 4% growth in gastroenterology and 7% growth in dermatology. The company hopes the GI space will be driven by Xeljanz, which it expects to file for global approval in ulcerative colitis in early 2017.
Follow Lisa LaMotta on Twitter