Ahead of ASCO, BMS' Opdivo leads Merck's Keytruda in U.S. sales—but not for long, analyst predicts

With all eyes on cancer treatments this weekend—in particular, immuno-oncology treatments—at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo still leads the pack in terms of U.S. sales. But analysts don’t expect that lead to last long.

IQVIA and Symphony, which each track drug prescriptions across the industry, list Opdivo’s sales as higher than those of Merck & Co. rival Keytruda, Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan, M.D., wrote in an investor note this week. According to the IQVIA numbers, the race is close, with Opdivo registering $307 million in April and Keytruda putting up $298 million. Symphony’s numbers hand Opdivo a bigger advantage with $342 million, compared with Keytruda’s $276 million.

But whatever the gap, Merck is about to close it, Divan figures. The New Jersey pharma giant has already rolled out a raft of positive new data this year, including results showing that Keytruda, when combined with Eli Lilly & Co.’s Alimta and platinum chemo, could cut the risk of death among previously untreated lung cancer patients by 51%. And the way Divan sees it, “the commercial benefit for Merck from some of the recent Keytruda data in lung cancer will likely be seen later” this quarter.

Those data and others are likely to put a dent in Opdivo’s lung cancer sales, with the major hit coming late this year and next, Divan predicts.

“That is when patients who would have otherwise progressed on first-line chemotherapy [alone] will not be available for Opdivo to capture in the second-line setting because they will have already been treated with Keytruda first,” he wrote.

RELATED: With ASCO data tallied, Bristol-Myers loses ground to Merck in I-O field

All told, he expects to see Keytruda rake in $4.2 billion this year, versus $3.7 billion for Opdivo.

While analysts may foresee Keytruda overtaking Opdivo, however, there’s still plenty of forthcoming data that could shake up the immuno-oncology landscape in the all-important lung cancer field, and key players will unveil some of it at ASCO this weekend. In particular, Merck is set to share more info on a positive Keytruda monotherapy trial in patients with all levels of PD-L1 biomarker expression, while Bristol-Myers will present additional data from its first-line combination of Opdivo and Yervoy.

Roche, meanwhile, is chasing Merck with PD-1/PD-L1-chemo pairings of its own, and investors will be looking for new details on its Tecentriq-Avastin-chemo cocktail.

Chart contributed by Eli Richman.