As Novartis' other cancer launches struggle, Lutathera gets off to flying start

Novartis has stumbled with a couple of its recent cancer launches, namely the complicated CAR-T rollout for Kymriah and come-from-behind Kisqali debut. But not so with Lutathera.

The drug, approved in January to treat somatostatin receptor-positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, is off to a flying start, the Swiss drugmaker’s executives told investors last week, with CEO Vas Narasimhan calling its launch a “really explosive performance.”

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Through mid-October, Lutathera had been dosed 1,123 times, according to Novartis’ third-quarter investor presentation (PDF), a trend Narasimhan called “very encouraging.” Eighty-five stateside centers are actively prescribing, and on the reimbursement side, Novartis has 70% coverage of relevant lives.

Those prescription numbers helped the therapy rack up $56 million in the quarter. “It’s become a real bright point for us,” Narasimhan told investors, adding that the treatment is outperforming “our deal case as part of the rationale” when it last year agreed to buy Lutathera maker Advanced Accelerator Applications for $3.9 billion.

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While Lutathera is just one of a few oncology approvals for Novartis as of late, its other two rollouts haven’t started off with the same bang. With Kisqali, a breast cancer treatment approved last March, Novartis has struggled to gain traction against Pfizer blockbuster Ibrance and newer rival Verzenio from Eli Lilly. And Kymriah, the company’s pioneering CAR-T drug, has run into manufacturing challenges that have slowed expansion.

Lutathera’s growth isn’t limited to the U.S., either—though execs don’t expect the launch to move as rapidly across the pond. “We do experience a slower uptake at the centers,” Liz Barrett, Novartis’ newly poached oncology head, said of the European market, and the company is “just starting to see reimbursent” there, too.