AstraZeneca kicks off second blood cancer launch, this time for orphan drug Lumoxiti

A Jefferies analyst has predicted Lumoxiti could generate $500 million for AstraZeneca at its peak. (AstraZeneca)

For the second straight year, AstraZeneca is spending the fall launching a hemo-oncology drug.

The company is in the process of rolling out Lumoxiti, a treatment for patients with the rare disease hairy cell leukemia (HCL), after a Sept. 14 FDA approval. And so far, according to Dave Fredrickson, executive vice president and global head of AZ’s oncology business unit, things are going well.

“The fact that we’ve already got patients receiving commercial therapy is exciting to us,” he said in an interview at the American Society of Hematology annual meeting earlier this month—particularly considering how few patients Lumoxiti is currently cleared to treat. The drug bears a green light only in patients who have undergone at least two prior therapies, and they make up just 200 to 400 of the 1,500-patient HCL population in the U.S.

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AstraZeneca, though, already has strong relationships with the HCL community, which has helped it swoop in quickly post-approval. “You can’t run a phase 3 program like we did without having deep engagement with the principal investigators and physicians that are treating this as experts across the United States,” Fredrickson said, and “the centers we worked with in the clinical studies are the same ones that really see the greatest number” of patients “and where the expertise for treating” HCL exists.

Its hematology field force—a small subset of which has been trained as “Lumoxiti experts,” Fredrickson said—is targeting between 10 and 15 high-priority clinics, and AstraZeneca is working “very closely” with patient associations in addition to the expert networks.

“We think it’s really the most effective way to make sure we can quickly get Lumoxiti to as many patients as possible,” Fredrickson said.

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Despite the small patient pool, one Jefferies analyst has pegged peak sales at $500 million, which would mark a substantial contribution from the orphan player. And AstraZeneca certainly wouldn’t mind seeing that scenario play out. The company is hoping to generate substantial blood cancer revenue—driven by its first hemo-oncology drug, Calquence—to pad its overall oncology sales and backup drugs such as PARP contender Lynparza, EGFR standout Tagrisso and PD-L1 entrant Imfinzi.

“Hematology is a core part of what we see as the future of AstraZeneca oncology,” Fredrickson said, noting the British drugmaker is aiming to be “the same types of leaders” in hemo-oncology “that we believe we are in the solid tumor space.”