GBT chief blames COVID-19 for 'clear' slowdown in Oxbryta launch, but analysts are still impressed

Global Blood Therapeutics' sickle cell disease medicine Oxbryta got off to a hot start after a November FDA approval. But early in its launch, execs now say they're seeing a "clear headwind" from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has tracked about 2,000 new patient prescriptions in the early months of the rollout. Lately, though, new patient starts have tanked by 60%, CEO Ted Love said on the company’s first-quarter conference call. GBT suspended in-person sales rep meetings with doctors on March 17, and many patients aren't meeting with their doctors under shelter-in-place orders.

While social distancing has meant fewer doctor visits for patients and sales reps, some doctors are prescribing the new therapy over video conferencing technology, Love said. But others haven’t, creating a drag on the med’s momentum.

Still, the company thinks it can overcome the slowdown. Its early launch progress bested Wall Street’s expectations, prompting a round of congratulations from analysts on the Wednesday call. In a note to clients Thursday, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Alethia Young wrote that the existing patient base, plus strong demand, “sets up 2020 revenue far better” than her team had previously predicted. Lovesaid the "performance has exceeded our expectations."

RELATED: Global Blood Therapeutics scores blockbuster FDA nod for Oxbryta, forecasts 'paradigm shift' in sickle cell disease 

The company had a “strong” December, with a “lighter” January and solid new patient growth in February and March before the pandemic hit in April, Young wrote to clients. Payer adoption and a favorable patient experience with the new medicine should drive growth going forward as patient starts speed back up, she added.

Cantor analysts are projecting $88.6 million in sales for the med through the rest of the year. They bumped their 2021 revenue estimate to $307 million from $258 million. GBT is also exploring a label expansion into younger patients, Young wrote, and is seeking an approval in Europe.

Oxbryta currently bears an OK to treat sickle cell disease patients 12 and older. After winning FDA clearance, execs predicted a “paradigm shift” in treatment, as the new option is a once-daily oral tablet that treats the root cause of the disease.