AbbVie's psoriasis launch Skyrizi hitting stride ahead of FDA's decision on upadacitinib

AbbVie is in the early stages of its Humira biosimilar slide after European copycats rolled out last fall. But thankfully for the drugmaker, it has a psoriasis launch handily besting expectations. 

After a May rollout, Skyrizi pulled in $48 million in the second quarter, easily beating a $13 million estimate from Piper Jaffray analysts. And behind the sales figures are several other important numbers that bode well, AbbVie management said on an earnings call Friday. 

Already, 1,700 doctors are prescribing the drug and 3,750 patients have started treatment, they said. In sum? AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez said Skyrizi is “performing significantly above our expectations.”  

Gonzalez also touted an intriguing market share figure for analysts to digest. After about 11 weeks on the market, the drug has scooped up 24% of the “in-play” market share, made up of previously untreated patients and those who are switching medicines.

Before Skyrizi’s launch, Humira held about 28% of the category, Gonzalez said. And even afterward, the aging blockbuster saw that share drop only slightly. The numbers show Skyrizi is “capturing significant competitive opportunities in the marketplace,” the CEO said.

Altogether, Cowen & Co. analyst Steve Scala said on the call Skyrizi has turned in some of the best “launch numbers in my memory.” 

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The figures bode well for AbbVie as it inches toward Humira's critical milestone—the U.S. biosim launches in 2023. With Boehringer Ingelheim’s recent decision to ink a patent settlement, Gonzalez said Friday the company is confident it won’t see Humira competition until then. 

Meanwhile, biosims are already taking a toll in Europe. In the second quarter, the immunology blockbuster turned in $1 billion in international sales, a decline of 35% versus the same period last year. Humira notched a U.S. sales increase of 7.7%, though, to $3.8 billion—and that helped shore up global sales. Humira managed $4.8 billion total for the second quarter, down 6.1%.

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Skyrizi isn’t the only big launch expected this year from AbbVie, either. The company is anticipating an FDA decision on rheumatoid arthritis med upadacitinib next month. On Friday’s call, AbbVie leadership said they’re confident in the JAK inhibitor's risk and benefit profile, despite recent safety questions for the class, and “don’t have any concerns about approvability." The FDA on Friday slapped a boxed warning on Pfizer's Xeljanz, a rival JAK inhibitor, over cardiovascular risks.

Ahead of Humira's loss of exclusivity, AbbVie is pressing ahead with the Allergan buyout it inked last month. On Friday’s call, Gonzalez said the company has mapped out a range of scenarios on Humira’s U.S. loss of exclusivity, adding Allergan helps in each case. Numerous biosim makers are set to launch Humira copycats in 2023 thanks to their settlements with AbbVie. 

Humira was the world’s bestselling med last year, generating nearly $20 billion globally.