Takeda, sporting a new-look portfolio, revs for Roche battle in ALK lung cancer

Takeda Oncology at ASCO
Takeda Oncology's booth at this weekend's ASCO annual meeting showcased the company's broader presence in the disease after its Ariad buyout.

CHICAGO—Takeda’s cancer unit debuted a new face at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting—and the company was quick to bill it as such.

The “new” Takeda Oncology represents more than just hematology, where Takeda has focused  in the past, company oncology commercial leader Ryan Cohlhepp said in an interview. And the Japanese pharma has its recent $5.2 billion Ariad acquisition to thank.

RELATED: Takeda shells out whopping $5.2B for Ariad, Iclusig and its fledgling med brigatinib

“This is probably the first ASCO in a really long time where Takeda Oncology has had a big presence,” he said, flagging a portfolio that now includes Ariad’s Iclusig and just-approved ALK inhibitor Alunbrig.

Takeda is “taking our first step into solid tumors,” he added, pointing out that “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.”

While the transition into a more diversified cancer player has come quickly—Takeda inked its Ariad pact in January, and things are almost “business as usual” at the drugmaker, Cohlhepp said—it hasn’t necessarily been easy. That’s because the company has been folding in the Ariad acquisition and launching Alunbrig at the same time. “I’ve done integrations, I’ve done launches, and I don’t think I ever want to do two at the same time again,” he joked. “It definitely adds more stress to the system.”

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

Takeda, though, has had “a good portion” of Ariad’s commercial team around for support. In March, 42 staffers came over from the Massachusetts drugmaker, and they’ve been able to focus exclusively on rolling out Alunbrig, with Takeda’s 135 or so Ninlaro reps taking up Ariad's chronic myeloid leukemia med Iclusig.

So far, Cohlhepp said, that system has been working well. About 70% of doctors who treat multiple myeloma patients eligible for Ninlaro also treat patients who could use Iclusig. And in the ALK-positive lung cancer space, prescribers are “really concentrated,” with the vast majority of scripts written over the last two years coming from the same 350 doctors.

With 42 reps, “we’re able to get out there and cover the entire base of 2,400 physicians with a higher concentration on those physicians who are seeing a lot more” ALK-positive patients, Cohlhepp said.

RELATED: Roche's Alecensa trounces Pfizer's Xalkori in head-to-head ALK matchup—again

Alunbrig, which already competes against Pfizer’s Xalkori and Novartis Zykadia, which recently won a first-line approval, could soon get a pretty hefty rival if this weekend’s ASCO data are any indication. Monday, Roche’s Alecensa posted its second set of Xalkori-beating results in the front-line setting, showing it could top the Pfizer med at reducing the risk of disease worsening or death by more than 53%.

Alecensa also impressed when it came to preventing brain metastases, which are more common among ALK-positive patients than other non-small cell lung cancer sufferers—and that’s an area where Takeda thinks Alunbrig can shine, too.

Data “shows that the CNS activity for Alunbrig is really good,” Cohlhepp said, adding that the med’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier is part of “what really intrigued us about the product.”

So where else can Alunbrig pick up an edge? Convenience, he predicted. Takeda is moving toward a one-pill-a-day regimen that it thinks could earn the med a leg up on its rivals.

The ease-of-use factor “is not going to make the best in class if that’s all you have,” Cohlhepp noted, but the data the company has seen “gives us the belief that we have the best-in-class compound.”