Latecomer Verzenio stands out from Ibrance, Kisqali in launch's early days: Lilly

Eli Lilly
Lilly's Verzenio followed Pfizer's Ibrance and Novartis' Kisqali to market.

It’s early days for Eli Lilly’s third-to-market launch of breast cancer newcomer Verzenio, but the company says it’s already managing to stand out from the crowd.

The differentiating factors for Verzenio are resonating,” SVP and oncology head Sue Mahony told investors on last week’s third-quarter conference call.

One of those differences is Verzenio’s continuous dosing, she said, and another is its solo approval. Its competitors—Ibrance from Pfizer and Kisqali from Novartis—are delivered alongside aromatase inhibitors or, for some Ibrance patients, AstraZeneca’s Faslodex. Verzenio can also be used in a combination regimen, but it's the only one of the three that can be used on its own. All three drugs treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer.

RELATED: Lilly steps up to rival Pfizer, Novartis with Verzenio breast cancer approval

The way doctors see it, Mahony said, those features are “important and clinically relevant.” And meanwhile, “what we’re hearing from physicians is that they see Kisqali more like" Ibrance, which has been one of Pfizer's top-performing launches.

Lilly is hoping its Verzenio rollout can outdo Kisqali's, which has been slower than Novartis executives would have liked. After launching in March, Kisqali has picked up just 5% of total prescriptions, CEO Joe Jimenez told investors on last week’s third-quarter earnings call.

Of course, not all Verzenio’s differentiating factors are positive ones. The medication turned up high rates of diarrhea in trials, though executives insisted those side effects would be manageable with the OTC product loperamide. As Mahony told investors, patients have so far shared that sentiment.

“We're providing loperamide and support around that, and people are very appreciative of that and saying it's manageable,” she said.

RELATED: Lilly's phase 3 miss dents Verzenio prospects in hot lung cancer field

While Lilly may be looking for Verzenio’s niche in breast cancer, it’s working to snag first-to-market approvals in other tumor types. Recently, though, that effort took a blow as the drug missed its endpoint in a phase 3 study in KRAS-mutated non-small cell lung cancer.

Still, the company is making its way through Verzenio combo studies. “[W]e do believe, particularly with regards to KRAS mutation-positive lung cancer, which is really hard to treat, that rational combinations will be important,” Mahony said. The pharma giant has “a number of those ongoing,” including a look at an immuno-oncology pairing that marries Verzenio and a PI3K/mTOR candidate.