- Roche’s new eye drug Vabysmo brought in nearly $500 million during the first quarter, the company said Wednesday. The more than 500% year-over-year sales increase outpaced all other of Roche’s medicines, surpassing top-sellers like the multiple sclerosis treatment Ocrevus and hemophilia therapy Hemlibra.
- Vabysmo’s market launch for age-related vision loss comes as one of the first treatments for the condition, Roche’s own Lucentis, faces copycat rivals, and another, Regeneron’s Eylea, could soon.
- The strong growth from Vabysmo helped propel a 9% increase in pharmaceutical division sales, which contrasted with a 3% decline in first quarter revenue for the overall business due to lower COVID-19 test sales.
People with wet age-related macular degeneration must take frequent eye injections of biologic drugs like Lucentis and Eylea to slow the vision loss they experience. Drugmakers have sought to reduce the frequency of those injections to help patients as well as ophthalmologists seeking to free up staff and office resources. Meanwhile, insurers — primarily Medicare in the U.S. — have been looking to reduce the costs of paying for physician services.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends injecting Lucentis once a month, although patients can go with less frequent appointments if they’re willing to sacrifice some efficacy. Eylea, on the other hand, has similar effectiveness when taken every eight weeks after an initial dosing period of once every four weeks.
Vabysmo reduced dosing even further, to once every four months. Its annual list price of $6,570 during that maintenance phase, or $2,190 a shot, is competitive with Lucentis biosimilars, which cost around $1,000 a shot. Eylea biosimilars are expected to enter sometime this year or next.
Vabysmo’s strong launch puts pressure on Regeneron, which relies on Eylea for a bulk of its sales. But Regeneron aims to soon win U.S. approval of a high-dose version that could blunt competition.
Analysts at RBC Capital Markets expect Vabsymo’s market share to grow, but wrote in a note to clients that “the window of opportunity for Vabysmo to make significant competitive inroads to Eylea franchise may be narrowing” with the high-dose Eylea formulation coming.
The new eye drug helped boost Roche’s pharmaceutical division’s growth, as did Ocrevus and Hemlibra; the cancer drugs Tecentriq, Phesgo, Perjeta and Polivy; and Evrysdi, the company’s therapy for the rare childhood condition spinal muscular atrophy.
Lucentis was among the drugs that shrank the most, along with three cancer drugs that have biosimilar competitors: Herceptin, Avastin and Rituxan.
Roche also joined fellow drugmakers Biogen and Novartis in announcing pipeline cuts, dropping four early- and mid-stage drugs, as well as stopping work for Tecentriq combinations in kidney and breast cancer.