- Roche moved one step closer to expanding its multiple sclerosis drug franchise with study results showing a more convenient formulation of Ocrevus works as well as the original intravenous infusion.
- Without releasing details, Roche said Thursday that its 10-minute subcutaneous injection of Ocrevus met the primary endpoint of non-inferiority to intravenous Ocrevus, as measured by drug levels in the blood. The two forms of the medicine were also comparable in controlling lesion activity in the brain over 12 weeks.
- Like intravenous Ocrevus, the new version is designed to be given twice a year. But the under-the-skin formulation would avoid both the infrastructure and long appointment times required with intravenous medicines. An infusion of Ocrevus now generally requires two to four hours with as many as two extra hours of pre-infusion checks and post-infusion monitoring.
Roche’s CEO for pharmaceuticals, Teresa Graham, told investors in April that approval of the 10-minute injection would open up a new part of the MS market and help “drive considerable growth for Ocrevus going forward.”
That prospect raised concern Thursday for investors in TG Therapeutics, which sells a rival MS treatment called Briumvi that bases part of its appeal on a more convenient one-hour infusion. Shares of TG dropped by as much as 15% in early trading.
Still, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Prakhar Agrawal argued the new version of Ocrevus is more likely to compete with Novartis’ Kesimpta injection than Briumvi. It’s unlikely that Roche would want to cannibalize sales from the intravenous market when the original Ocrevus has years of exclusivity left, he wrote in a note to clients.
Roche’s potential positioning of the new version as an at-home product could mean it falls under Medicare’s prescription drug coverage instead of programs that offer bigger streams of revenue to inpatient facilities, Agrawal wrote. The loss of facility revenue and the possibility of higher co-pays for patients may make doctors more reluctant to move patients to the new version of Ocrevus, he said.
For its part, Roche expects Ocrevus to keep winning market share at the expense of other MS medicines. It’s already the Swiss drugmaker’s best-selling drug, bringing in 1.6 billion Swiss francs, or $1.9 billion, in the first quarter. It’s been used by more than 300,000 patients around the world and is the top treatment in both the U.S. and EU markets, according to Roche.