Bayer grapples with Eylea sales slowdown, sees trend continuing in 2023

On the surface, macular degeneration treatment Eylea continued its juggernaut path in 2022. On Tuesday, when Bayer reported fourth quarter earnings, it showed 3.2 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in full-year sales for a 10% increase on the previous year.

Combined with sales reported earlier this month by Regeneron, Eylea generated $9.6 billion in revenue worldwide in 2022, compared to $8.9 billion for 2021.

But a closer look at quarter-by-quarter performance, Bayer’s sales of Eylea tells a different story. In the first quarter, sales were (PDF) up 15.4% over the previous year. In the second quarter, it was (PDF) 13.5%. In the last two periods, the increases have shrunk (PDF) to 6.3% and 6.2%.

On Tuesday, Bayer said it expects the erosion to continue in 2023.

“We’re seeing continued good growth on volumes but we’re getting some pricing challenges,” Stefan Olerich, Bayer’s pharmaceuticals division chief, said during a conference call. “Overall this is not gonna be the same type of success that we’ve seen in prior years.”

Regeneron, which handles sales of Eylea in the U.S., reported a similar slowdown for the treatment in 2022, calling it a "blip."

The elephant in the room, of course, is Roche’s Vabysmo, which was approved last year in the U.S. and Europe, and has a formula that lasts twice as long as Eylea for many patients, requiring fewer doses.

When asked specifically about the competition, Olerich dodged the question, referring only to “pricing” pressure.

Bayer believes this will be a short-term trend, however, until Eylea’s high-dose, 8-mg answer to Vabysmo can pass muster with regulators.

“Compared to what many people did foresee—a declining Eylea in the coming years—we now should see a much more stable and maybe even growing outlook,” Olerich said.

Another elephant went unaddressed during the call—that of CEO Werner Baumann being replaced under investor pressure by former Roche pharma chief Bill Anderson, who takes over in June.

Baumann handled the prepared presentation, business as usual, on Tuesday, while turning the Q&A session over to his lieutenants.

Overall in Bayer’s pharma sector, sales were up 5% in 2022, to 19.25 billion euros ($20.4 billion). But mirroring the performance of Eylea, they were down in the fourth quarter by 2%.

Blood thinner Xarelto was still Bayer’s top seller in 2022 with sales of 4.5 billion euros ($4.8 billion) though falling by 5%. Baumann chalked the decline up to “volume-based procurement impacts in China and loss of exclusivity in Brazil.”

The company is depending on promising new products such as Nubeqa and Kerendia to compensate for the slide of its blockbusters. Prostate cancer drug Nubeqa is taking flight with sales more than doubled to 466 million euros ($494 million) for the year. In its fifth full quarter on the market, Kerendia hit sales of 107 million euros ($113 million).

“We’re seeing one of the strongest launch dynamics in the cardiovascular space, despite the initial COVID restrictions we had to face in 2021,” Olerich said.

Including its crop science and consumer health sectors, Bayer recorded an overall revenue increase of 8% in the fourth quarter but profits for the period fell from 1.16 billion euros ($1.23 billion) to 611 million euros ($648 million), chalked up to a higher number of lawsuits settled in 2022 over weedkiller Roundup.

The company expects overall revenue for 2023 to fall between 51 billion euros to 52 billion euros. Citi analyst Peter Verdult said the conservative guidance reflects Bayer’s CEO change.