Argenx needs some 'aggressive' doc education on Vyvgart to beat AZ's Ultomiris: analyst

Argenx is riding high on rosy second-quarter sales for its newly launched rare disease drug Vyvgart, but an analyst warns that a new rival—in the form of AstraZeneca's Ultomiris—could knock its trajectory off course. 

That’s according to a new report out from analysts at Evercore ISI, who surveyed 50 doctors about their use of the drug. Argenx nabbed an FDA approval for Vyvgart just before Christmas last year—the biopharma's first ever regulatory green light—for the rare disease generalized myasthenia gravis (gMG).

Evercore, combing through its first-quarter data for the drug and the new survey, found that, on average, doctors reported 6% of their patients were on Vyvgart, while Argenx had reported 380 patients (around 1% market penetration) for the first quarter, “so this signals strong growth,” Evercore said in a note to clients.

First-quarter revenue for the drug, just over $21 million, was three times the consensus prediction, and second-quarter numbers could show a steeper launch trajectory, the analysts wrote. They ballparked sales at $60 million, nearly twice the consensus; in the end, Argenx knocked this out of the park, bringing in $75 million for Q2. 

But that’s where the good news ends. Though it treats a rare disease, Vyvgart is already embroiled in a competitive market battle. Back in April, just two months after Vyvgart's launch, AstraZeneca’s Alexion unit nabbed a gMG approval for Ultomiris, the next-gen follow-up to its aging Soliris, which also has a gMG approval.

“Overall, the survey paints a picture that Vyvgart may exceed consensus heading into earnings, but it is highly vulnerable to Ultomiris,” Evercore said in the note, adding that Argenx “will need to continue an aggressive physician awareness campaign and push convenience/flexibility.”

Looking at the latest numbers, the firm said while Ultomiris adoption in MG is 4%, it's nearly caught up to Vyvgart's 6%.

Evercore’s survey also found that doctors “see Vyvgart and Ultomiris as nearly equivalent overall, including reimbursement, efficacy, patient convenience and safety.” Soliris and Ultomiris are C5 inhibitors, while Vyvgart is a neonatal Fc receptor blocker.

But physician awareness for Vyvgart “is lower than Ultomiris,” they said, hence the need for that “aggressive” awareness campaign.

This may be because Ultomiris has been around for longer as a treatment for other rare diseases. It's already a blockbuster, thanks to FDA approvals in paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria and atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Argenx started working on patient awareness for Vyvgart before it was FDA-approved. Back in the fall of 2020, Argenx released a a video series called “A Mystery to Me” that featured fitness instructor Vanetta, firefighter Glenn and dance instructor Teresa—three patients who share personal details and stories around discovery, diagnoses and daily life on living with MG. 

And in March of this year, a few months after Vyvgart's launch, Argenx ran its first unbranded DTC ad for the drug. Though the ad talks up a "new treatment option" for MG, it did not mention the drug by name.