Lilly tees up another Novartis battle with ankylosing spondylitis OK for Taltz

Eli Lilly
Eli Lilly's Taltz churned out $606.3 million in global first-half sales. (Eli Lilly)

Eli Lilly’s Taltz is cruising toward blockbuster territory, and now it has a new indication to help it get there.

Monday, the FDA green-lighted the drug in ankylosing spondylitis (AS), adding to the go-aheads it received in December 2017 for psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and in March 2016 for plaque psoriasis.

With the new launch, Lilly is hoping to build on a Taltz reputation it says is strong. The same rheumatologists who treat PsA also treat AS, Rebecca Morison, vice president of U.S. immunology at Lilly, said.

“For those physicians that have experience with Taltz, I certainly think it helps that it will be an option they’re aware of and comfortable with … they’ve seen the safety and efficacy in the PsA patient that they can translate,” she said.

RELATED: Lilly chases third Taltz-Cosentyx matchup with new ankylosing spondylitis data

But Taltz isn’t the only option in its class that those physicians have. In AS, the Lilly drug will go up against a familiar foe in Novartis’ Cosentyx, a product it's already battling in its other two indications.

Cosentyx has a significant head start, having picked up its AS nod back in early 2016. But it also beat Taltz to market in both PsA in psoriasis, and that hasn’t stopped Lilly from racking up significant Taltz sales. Through the first six months of this year, the therapy generated $606.3 million, putting it on track to surpass the blockbuster threshold in 2019 and blow last year’s $937.5 million out of the water.

As it takes on Cosentyx, Lilly will be talking up Taltz’s “rapid onset and relief of symptoms, but also the consistency of that effect, dose-to-dose and over time. That is really what patients want, and certainly what physicians are hoping for for their patients,” Morison said.

And in the meantime, Lilly will be rolling out its marketing message straight to consumers, too.

“We certainly will work through digital and DTC to help those patients with AS understand the options available to them and introduce them, if they aren’t familiar with Taltz, through those channels,” Morison said, adding that exactly which methods Lilly uses throughout the next 12 to 18 months to get its message across “will vary based on market factors.”

RELATED: Can new data give Lilly's Taltz one head start on Novartis' Cosentyx?

Outside of AS, Taltz has been on a roll when it comes to beating out its head-to-head rivals. Late last year, it topped anti-TNF giant Humira in a PsA showdown, and earlier this month, it bested Johnson & Johnson newcomer Tremfya in a psoriasis trial. And Lilly is working to score additional indications for Taltz, too: In April, the Indianapolis drugmaker touted positive phase 3 results in non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, an area where Cosentyx is not yet approved.