- Bristol Myers Squibb’s blood disease drug Reblozyl helped patients with low- and intermediate-risk myelodysplastic syndrome better than an older anemia treatment, the company said Monday. The positive trial results are a sign that Bristol Myers could soon expand use of the drug, which it believes could reach sales of $4 billion a year.
- Specifically, the COMMANDS trial randomized patients, who were dependent on red blood cell transfusions but never had received drug treatment, to take either Reblozyl or epoetin alfa. Significantly more patients taking Reblozyl were able to quit transfusions and saw hemoglobin increases, Bristol Myers said. Trial investigators will release full data at an upcoming medical meeting.
- Reblozyl is one of eight new drugs that Bristol Myers believes will achieve a combined $25 billion in sales in 2029. Achieving those sales targets would come as the company faces one of the bigger patent cliffs in the industry, with its $13-billion-a-year cancer drug Revlimid already facing generic competition and $11-billion-a-year blood-thinner Eliquis due to lose exclusivity in 2026.
Reblozyl was among a stable of drugs, including Revlimid, that Bristol Myers brought on board when it bought Celgene for $74 billion in 2019. That acquisition followed by eight years Celgene’s joint development deal on the drug, also called luspatercept, with a biotech called Acceleron. The latter company was acquired in 2021 by Merck & Co. for $12 billion.
Reblozyl first gained approval in 2019 for the rare disorder beta thalassemia. It was approved again the next year, as a “second-line” treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome, specifically for those who need blood transfusions even after using epoetin alfa or similar agents. Taken together, those two indications represent about 14,000 patients in the U.S. and biggest European markets, according to Bristol Myers.
The first-line setting tested in the COMMANDS trial accounts for another 19,000 patients, allowing for a potentially substantial expansion in Reblozyl’s use.
Bristol Myers recorded $551 million in sales from the drug last year, and another $518 million through the first nine months of 2022.
In Bristol Myers’ third quarter earnings call last week, analysts questioned why some patients were quitting Reblozyl early because they weren’t seeing any benefits. Chris Boerner, the company’s chief commercialization officer, said only about half of patients were increasing their dose after an initial round of therapy compared with 80% in the Reblozyl clinical trials, and the company is now trying to work with doctors to educate them on the need to up the dosage.
Meanwhile, a company called Keros Therapeutics is developing a similarly-acting drug called KER-050 for myelodysplastic syndrome. It is in Phase 2 trials and, if successful, could emerge as a competitor for Reblozyl.