Johnson & Johnson's Stelara, Tremfya step up in Q4 as Remicade's decline speeds

Psoriasis med Tremfya is already the new to brand share leader in its class after winning approval last July, J&J says. (Johnson & Johnson)

Remicade may have had a tougher time against biosimilar competitors in the fourth quarter than it has in the past, but Johnson & Johnson’s other immunology products are making quick share gains to fill the gap, the company says.

On its fourth-quarter conference call on Tuesday, the New Jersey drugmaker said Stelara had nabbed 2 points of share in the overall immunology marketplace—but in Crohn’s, where it won an approval in September 2016, it made an 11-point gain.

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The product grew so quickly, investor relations VP Joseph Wolk told shareholders, that original rebate estimates from prior quarters required some adjusting, and that rebating lopped about 10 percentage points off of Stelara’s sales growth and dragged its top-line tally $55 million below estimates at $1.08 billion. One-third of Stelara’s quarterly sales came from the new Crohn’s nod, he said.

Of course, some of Stelara’s success has come at the expense of declining Remicade, which is also indicated for Crohn’s. But “only about five points” of Stelara’s 11-point tally came from its predecessor, Wolk said.

Brand-new psoriasis therapy Tremfya, too, looked good, despite the trio of competitors it faced upon launch. The med, which is battling Novartis’ Cosentyx, Eli Lilly’s Taltz and Valeant’s Siliq, racked up $47 million in the fourth quarter after winning a July approval, and “the product is already the new to brand share leader when accounting for both IMS Claims Data and internal data on samples,” Wolk said.

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J&J is hoping those newer drugs can keep it up. Remicade did an effective job of beating back biosimilar rivals through 2017’s first three quarters—so effective, in fact, that biosimilar maker Pfizer sued J&J for striking “exclusionary contracts” it claimed were anticompetitive.

But as J&J knows, it’s not going to be able to keep up the act forever, and its fourth-quarter numbers showed it. The behemoth came in $63 million below consensus at $1.47 billion, though the company insisted “demand was relatively stable and the erosion was primarily driven by negative price."

As to how quickly biosim copies will leech Remicade sales this year, J&J CFO Dominic Caruso is staying mum. “We would expect that the acceleration of that biosimilar impact to Remicade, we will see more of that in 2018 than we saw in 2017. But I can’t give you a very specific number,” he said.