Novartis hopes Seretide-topping data can push docs toward Ultibro


If Novartis wants to be a respiratory giant in Europe, it’s going to have to weasel market share away from GlaxoSmithKline. Now it has some new data it’s hoping can help on that front.

Sunday, the New England Journal of Medicine published head-to-head data showing that the pharma giant’s Ultibro Breezhaler topped GSK’s Seretide--known as Advair in the U.S.--at preventing exacerbations in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)--which can lead to hospitalization and even death, Novartis pointed out.

"Reducing exacerbations is absolutely critical to improve outcomes and quality of life for COPD patients," Vasant Narasimhan, the Swiss drugmaker’s CMO, said in a statement. The study “has clearly shown that Ultibro Breezhaler is superior to the current standard of care in reducing exacerbations, marking a shift away from therapies containing steroids for the optimal treatment of COPD patients."

Or so Novartis hopes. While Seretide has taken a beating over the last couple years on new competition and payer pressure--sales sank 18% in Europe last year--it still raked in £1.01 billion ($1.46 billion) in 2015 sales on the continent. And that’s a far cry from the $260 million Ultibro--a steroid-free LAMA/LABA combo drug--churned out during the same period.

And Glaxo itself has shown that it isn’t easy to propel doctors--used to steroid-containing ICS/LABA meds such as Seretide--toward the newer LAMA/LABAs. Glaxo has had trouble breathing life into its own contender, Anoro, and CEO Andrew Witty noted on the company’s Q1 conference call that physicians are “taking a long time to change habits” when it comes to prescribing.

Novartis, though, thinks it has what it takes to clear that hurdle--and in the meantime, it's looking at fellow new respiratory products Onbrez Breezhaler and Seebri Breezhaler to chip in, too.

"I think we really have a chance to become one of the market leaders in respiratory medicine, and I would see us in most markets doing that ourselves," Novartis pharma chief David Epstein has said of ex-U.S. sales.

- read Novartis' release

Special Report: The 10 best-selling drugs of 2013 - Advair/Seretide

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