J&J's Ponvory may be late to the multiple sclerosis market, but doctors still see potential: study

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Neurologists who are already prescribing Johnson & Johnson’s new multiple sclerosis drug Ponvory cited patient requests as a key reason. (Raysonho/CC0)

Johnson & Johnson’s Ponvory is the fourth in its class and the ninth branded oral drug in multiple sclerosis, and it hasn’t exactly sped out of the starting gate. But it’s off to a surprisingly good start when it comes to physician opinions, a survey found.

In a Spherix Global Insights survey, physicians projected a 4.5% market share for Ponvory six months from now. If they follow through, that would put Ponvory on par with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Zeposia, launched last June, which has a 4.1% projected share in January 2022, and in front of Novartis’ Mayzent at 3.3%, Spherix found.

Roche's Ocrevus, a CD20 antigen on B cells, leads the MS market with neurologists reporting a current 16.8% share now and an almost identical 16.7% in the next six months. 

The neurologists reported positive opinions about Ponvory’s potential, especially with a key group of patients—family planners. Spherix found that half of the specialists surveyed said Ponvory could end up as a preferred oral therapy for women or men looking to start families.

That’s because, unlike most other MS drugs, Ponvory clears out of a person’s system within a week, Virginia Schobel, Spherix's neurology franchise head, said. 

While Janssen is not broadly marketing Ponvory to people planning to conceive, the data from the Spherix quarterly deep dive showed doctors' inclination to do so, and as Schobel said, "If we were at Janssen, I think that's how we would position it."

RELATED: J&J nabs FDA nod for Ponvory, joining Novartis, Bristol Myers in crowded MS market

Ponvory’s relatively slow uptake in prescriptions after three months on the market may be connected to low detailing rates by J&J sales reps. Spherix compared Ponvory’s first three months to other MS drug launches and found only 14% of neurologists were contacted about Ponvory in the past month. With other drug launches at that same point in time, more than half had been contacted, Schobel said.

Being fourth to market in the class has inherent disadvantages, of course. Physicians can afford to take a wait-and-see approach with Ponvory—and indeed most physicians who haven’t yet prescribed it say they’ll wait at least another six months, Schobel said.

“It’s interesting the breadth of brands physicians are discussing with patients before starting on Ponvory. It’s not just S1Ps but also includes high efficacy B-cell therapy and at the other end of the spectrum, the fumarate class, which includes low-cost generic options,” Schobel said.

RELATED: New MS entrant Johnson & Johnson rolls film aimed at helping Black Americans live well with the disease

Another unique market dynamic that popped up in the research is that patients are requesting Ponvory. After the most-cited reason of anticipated efficacy, neurologists who are already prescribing it cited patient requests as the second reason. Schobel said that’s unusual; patient requests typically rate fourth or fifth as reasons to prescribe.

J&J’s outcome with Ponvory, then, may be a matter of what tack J&J takes with the physicians who may need extra convincing.

“If Janssen can differentiate and lay out where they’re going to play, present the data and explain why it makes sense, then yes, it will be interesting to watch,” Schobel said.

Differentiating will be key. As one neurologist in the Spherix study said, echoing other doctors' similar sentiments, “I am still trying to get my head around how is this really different from Zeposia?”