Sanofi pins hopes on immunology as Lantus sales fade
- French drugmaker Sanofi saw all five of its global business units return to growth in the fourth quarter, reporting overall net sales which came in higher than expected despite continued pricing and competitive pressures in diabetes.
- While sales from Sanofi's glargine franchise rose in the fourth quarter, CEO Olivier Brandicourt said 2017 sales would likely come in below the minus 4% to minus 8% forecast Sanofi gave in 2015 due to further price erosion in the U.S.
- The steep downward trajectory of Lantus (insulin glargine) — Sanofi's top breadwinner — has caused the company to focus more on its specialty care, vaccines and consumer businesses. In specialty care, Sanofi hopes to build a strong immunology franchise with planned launches for Dupixent (dupilimab) and Kevzara (sarilumab).
Speaking on a call with investors Wednesday morning, Brandicourt outlined a vision for growth centered on Sanofi Genzyme, vaccines and consumer healthcare — which was strengthened considerably by an asset swap with Boehringer Ingelheim last year.
The shift in focus away from diabetes is not surprising. Sales of Lantus fell by almost 10% in 2016 and look set to decline further as payers in the U.S. tighten coverage and drive down prices. CVS Health, a major pharmacy benefit manager, last year decided to exclude Lantus from its 2017 formulary, swapping in Eli Lilly's follow-on biologic Basaglar (insulin glargine) instead.
Opportunities in diabetes do still remain though, said Peter Guenter, head of diabetes and cardiovascular for Sanofi.
The drugmaker recently launched its combo insulin/GLP-1 drug Soliqua (glargine and lixisenatide) in the U.S., for example. While sales of Lantus will continue to slide, Sanofi hopes to maintain as many people on the drug to help boost Soliqua, which is approved for adults with type 2 diabetes inadequately controlled by basal insulins like Lantus.
And Toujeo (glargine), a successor to Lantus, continued to grow, notching €238 million ($255 million) in fourth-quarter sales.
But with a overall downward outlook clear, Sanofi is putting a lot of emphasis on upcoming launches for Dupixent and Kevzara. The company expects to win U.S. approval for Dupixent in atopic dermatitis by March 29 and plans to resubmit its application for approval of Kevzara sometime this quarter.
Together the drugs will form the basis of Sanofi's immunology franchise. While Sanofi declined to put a number on expected sales in Dupixent's first year, Genzyme head David Meeker said a comparison to Novartis' fast-growing Cosentyx (secukinumab) was not an unreasonable assumption.
Meeker views the atopic dermatitis market as one that still needs to be built, rather than an established space like psoriasis. Sanofi plans to target roughly 7,000 physicians in the U.S. who have experience with biologic drugs, especially in psoriasis, to help support Dupixent's launch.
Securing timely approvals for both drugs could help lessen the sting of weakness in diabetes. And after missing out on deals for both Medivation and Actelion, an acquisition could also still be in the cards.
Follow Ned Pagliarulo on Twitter