Takeda's Alunbrig trounces Pfizer drug in bid for earlier ALK lung cancer use

Takeda HQ
Takeda picked up Alunbrig in last year's $5.2 billion Ariad buyout. (Takeda)

Pfizer’s targeted therapy Xalkori is about to get even more competition in previously untreated ALK-positive lung cancer. And if new data are any indication, it’s pretty stiff.

Takeda's Alunbrig put up data this week showing it reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 51% compared with the New York pharma giant’s Xalkori. And that kind of showing means Alunbrig “has the potential to be a key player in the first-line setting,” lead study investigator Ross Camidge said in a statement.

RELATED: Takeda's also-ran ALK drug Alunbrig aims to challenge Pfizer with new first-line data

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Xalkori has long been the drug to beat in ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer. It first won FDA approval back in 2011, and since then competing drugmakers have had to work to show they could top it.

Last year, though, a pair of rivals were rewarded with FDA green lights for doing just that. First, Novartis’s Zykadia grabbed a front-line nod in May, and Roche’s Alecensa followed up with its own go-ahead in November. And Xalkori's sales have reflected the hit: In the first six months of 2018, its top-line haul declined to $290 million from $296 million.

Despite the competition, Takeda—which picked up Alunbrig as part of 2017’s $5.2 billion Ariad buyout—thinks it can lead the pack. When the drug snagged its FDA approval last April, CEO Christophe Weber predicted it would “become a best-in-class ALK inhibitor … with the potential to achieve peak annual sales of over $1 billion.”

RELATED: Takeda's Ariad deal pays off with blockbuster green light for Alunbrig

Takeda certainly hopes so. Although it recently agreed to shell out a whopping $64 million for rare-disease drugmaker Shire, the Japanese company is still looking for big contributions from its cancer drugs—especially considering the question marks surrounding Shire’s lagging hemophilia business.

Takeda is also counting on Alunbrig to help pave its entry into solid tumors; previously, the company had only marketed hemo-oncology drugs, such as multiple myeloma blockbuster Velcade.

“Having Alunbrig now gives us scale and capability in solid tumors that we never had” and “really gives us a breadth that we were never able to claim before, only being in hematology with a hematology focus,” then-company oncology commercial leader Ryan Cohlhepp said in an interview last summer.