AbbVie's arthritis hotshot Rinvoq grabs a win in ulcerative colitis

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AbbVie's Rinvoq is one of two key immunology launches helping the Illinois drugmaker generate sales to replace Humira. (AbbVie)

AbbVie’s next-gen immunology med Rinvoq has been turning heads with its rheumatoid arthritis launch, but it was never meant to stop there. While attention has largely been focused on its atopic dermatitis prospects, the drug posted data Wednesday that showed it’s coming to play in ulcerative colitis (UC), too.

In a phase 2b/3 study, Rinvoq topped placebo at helping previously untreated UC patients achieve remission by the eight-week mark. Twenty-six percent of those in the trial’s Rinvoq arm hit that benchmark, versus just 5% of those on placebo.

The drug also hit a range of secondary endpoints, including topping placebo at producing any benefit among patients; 73% of Rinvoq patients responded to treatment at eight weeks, compared with 27% of placebo patients.

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The results are important, given that many UC patients “still do not achieve disease control” despite the wealth of treatment options available on the market, Michael Severino, M.D., AbbVie vice chairman and president, said in a statement.

Those options include Humira, AbbVie’s aging anti-TNF megablockbuster whose sales the company is trying to replace with Rinvoq and fellow new launch Skyrizi. They also include Pfizer’s Xeljanz—which, along with Rinvoq, is part of the JAK inhibitor class—and Johnson & Johnson's IL-12/IL-23 giant Stelara. And soon, they could feature Bristol Myers Squibb’s Zeposia, an S1P receptor modulator, which earlier this year hit the scene in multiple sclerosis.

But the way SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges sees it, Rinvoq outperformed at least a few of those options. "We are impressed by the strong efficacy shown by Rinvoq, which seems to be superior" to Xeljanz and the other JAK inhibitor that's been studied in UC—Gilead's filgotinib—"as well as the biologicals including TNF’s and IL-12/23s," he wrote in a Thursday note to clients.

Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal felt similarly about how Rinvoq looked relative to its future Pfizer rival, writing in his own note to clients that the data show "clear efficacy signal, better than Xeljanz, and within the ballpark of what has been seen across the UC field."

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UC isn’t the only disease area where Rinvoq is threatening. It came through in two pivotal atopic dermatitis trials over the summer, most recently showing it could spur a 75% reduction in symptoms at 16 weeks in 60% of study patients.

Of course, competition isn’t exactly light in that field, either, with Sanofi and Regeneron’s blockbuster Dupixent running the show. But between those indications and a raft of others where AbbVie is currently trialing the drug, analysts figure Rinvoq can build on its current rheumatoid arthritis sales to eventually hit $2.2 billion in 2023.

For now, the med is right where it needs to be for AbbVie, which is gearing up to lose Humira exclusivity. In the third quarter, Rinvoq and Skyrizi combined to post $650 million in sales, keeping the duo on pace to generate more than $2 billion for the year.