BMS Q1 earnings call shy on major Japan sales gains for Opdivo

Giovanni Caforio
BMS CEO Giovanni Caforio

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) lauded the performance of its major-selling cancer checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo globally and hinted at more--but the talk was short on specifics in Japan, where a sales surge since a lung indication was added last year has vaulted forecasts in a key reimbursed market.

"Regarding immuno-oncology, we've had a very strong start of the year, building on our leadership position. Commercially the launch of Opdivo (nivolumab) continues to accelerate, based on continued approvals and new indications around the world. First-quarter sales were $704 million," CEO Giovanni Caforio said on the April 28 first quarter earnings call.

"Physician adoption of Opdivo remains strong in markets where we have launched, with PD-1 dollar shares of more than 80% in the U.S. and comparable shares in other key markets including Germany, France and Japan."

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Charlie Bancroft, chief financial officer, said that Opdivo has now been approved in 50 countries with international sales in the first quarter reaching $110 million.

Bancroft however did not break out how Opdivo fits in with the partnership in Japan, where it came through a development to commercialization partnership with Ono Pharmaceuticals that leads back to the original co-developer Medarex, which BMS bought back in 2009.

Ono has rights to Opdivo in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and also works with BMS on other drugs, including Yervoy (ipilimumab) and candidate lirilumab, with rights for the same three countries.

By Ono's estimates, sales are leagues above earlier forecasts with new indications pending. A wild card not answered on the call, however, is the effect of price cuts carried out once every two years.

In April, Ono said Opdivo did significantly better than expected in Japan for the financial year ended March 31. The news came during an update ahead of actual results as the anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor was strong in lung cancer since approval in December 2015, building on a first-in-class approval for unresectable malignant melanoma in 2014.

Japanese sales reached ¥21.2 billion in the financial year, soaring from an original estimate of ¥3.5 billion for the year that was revised twice to ¥17.5 billion after the expanded indication. Next year, sales are expected to grow to ¥126 billion ($1.16 billion) for the lung cancer indication.

- here's the BMS release

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