Genzyme CEO's dupilumab goal? Getting it to the right patients, just like a rare-disease drug

Sanofi's headquarters in Paris
Genzyme CEO David Meeker says launching atopic dermatitis med dupilumab will be a bit like launching a rare-disease med.

SAN FRANCISCO—When the time comes to launch its new atopic dermatitis treatment dupilumab, Sanofi's Genzyme CEO David Meeker has one key objective—and it isn't about the company’s top line.

Meeker figures sales will take care of themselves. “The drug will do fine,” he said in an interview at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. “It’s a very good drug, I’m not worried about that. I’m just worried about making sure that we get it right.”

What does “getting it right” look like, exactly? It’s making sure the right patient gets the right drug at the same time, which Meeker called “the No. 1. Goal.”

“If your disease could be controlled with a topical steroid for example, why would you use this drug? That’s not the right patient for this drug, and that to me is almost as bad as the person who badly needs it not getting it,” he said.

So naturally, Sanofi’s working on ways to make sure its message lands in the right place, provided dupilumab—developed with Regeneron—wins FDA approval. And with dupilumab looking to become the first in its class of immunotherapies for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis, finding the right patients will be a group project.

As Meeker figures, it’ll be a bit like building a rare-disease community—which Genzyme knows a thing or two about, as purveyor of several drugs for rare enzyme disorders. This will be a much bigger community, because atopic dermatitis affects about 7 million to 8 million adults in the U.S. But the idea is similar: Sanofi will be using social media to spread the word and bring patients together, while working with patient groups, physician thought leaders and others to help patients better understand their disease and highlight dupilumab as a treatment option.

The company will also field a standard-sized specialty care sales force to target the 7,000 U.S dermatologists with biologics experience—the first target group of prescribers for dupilumab, which will be sold under the brand name Dupixent.

There's another group Sanofi wants to help understand atopic dermatitis, too, and that’s payers. As the French drugmaker well knows, thanks to its experience with the slower-than-expected launch of its PCSK9 med Praluent, payers can do plenty to stand in the way of a new med, no matter how large its treatable population—and that’s not something Sanofi wants to see happen this time.

“We should not be on the opposite sides of this equation,” Meeker said.

The solution, as he sees it? It's more than just efficacy data.

“It’s not ‘I got x percent improvement,’ as much it is, ‘Do you really understand the problem? What is the quality of life of a person with atopic dermatitis?’ ... There’s data, but there’s also the stories that say, ‘This is the problem we’re trying to solve, and we’re trying to work with you.”

Meanwhile, if all goes well for the pharma giant, atopic dermatitis will be just the first launch of many for dupilumab. As Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt laid out in a Tuesday presentation, the company has pivotal data in hand for an asthma indication, and it expects to submit the med to regulators for that new use in Q4. It also began phase 3 nasal polyposis trials late last year, and Sanofi is studying the compound in food allergies and eosinophilic esophagitis, too.

“Dupixent can be a pipeline, frankly, in itself,” Brandicourt said.