Regeneron suits up for laser battle to keep growing Eylea in diabetic eye disease

The diabetic macular edema market has been driving growth for Regeneron blockbuster Eylea over the last couple of years. But to keep up that expansion, Regeneron will have to clear one big hurdle--and it may take a while to do so.

Retinal specialists prescribe anti-VEGF therapies such as Eylea in their offices, Regeneron’s execs explained on the company’s Q3 conference call last week. But a sizeable contingent of patients aren’t consulting those specialists in the first place.

The reason? Patients are going to opthalmologists for laser therapy instead, and it’s up to Regeneron to make sure they know Eylea is another option.

“We are trying to educate patients that if they do have DME, they ought to get themselves to a retinal specialist,” execs said, “but this is chipping away at a habit” among opthalmologists--many of whom make money off laser procedures--and “it’s going to take some time.”

Luckily for Regeneron, DME isn’t Eylea’s only growth market; the New York biotech is pursuing a diabetic retinopathy indication in the U.S., with a Phase III study underway.

It’s also working on a follow-up combos for Eylea in wet age-related macular degeneration--the drug’s original market--though that effort took a hit in September when a clinical trial fell short. In that study, Eylea combined with candidate rinucumab failed to beat out Eylea on its own.

While Regeneron has diversified beyond Eylea--thanks in large part to a collaboration with French drug giant Sanofi--two of its key growth prospects aren’t where the company hoped they’d be by now. Uptake of PCSK9 med Praluent is still happening slowly, and sarilumab--a drug candidate shared by the two drugmakers--recently felt the sting of FDA rejection, thanks to manufacturing issues at a Sanofi plant.  

For now, though, Eylea is still getting the job done. Last week, Regeneron hiked the bottom end of its growth range predictions for the med; it now expects Eylea to post expansion of between 23% and 25% for the year, the company said.