Bayer's Kerendia/SGLT2 combo exceeds expectations, with more expansion ahead: pharma chief

Bayer’s heart and kidney disease drug Kerendia is considered a rival to well-established SGLT2 diabetes meds. But after new data showed the two types of medicines can work together, the German company is getting even more bullish about Kerendia’s potential.

Recently unveiled data from the Figaro-DKD trial showed Kerendia seemed to offer additional heart and kidney benefits when used in patients already taking an SGLT2 inhibitor. The result offers a “broadening of the evidence that even to some degree exceeds what I expected at first from this new medicine,” Stefan Oelrich, Bayer’s pharma chief, said during an investor call Tuesday.

The Figaro trial significantly increases the patient base for Kerendia, which should translate into bigger sales, Oelrich added.

Kerendia has been mainly tested in diabetes patients with chronic kidney disease, but Bayer is planning to expand its use into nondiabetic patients, Oelrich pointed out. Last year, Bayer launched the phase 3 Finearts-HF trial evaluating Kerendia in patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.

RELATED: ESC 2021: Bayer's Kerendia touts outcomes data as it looks to complement J&J, AZ drugs

Kerendia is one of four near-term drug launches that Bayer expects could reach blockbuster status. Prostate cancer drug Nubeqa, which got its first FDA nod in mid-2019, is another.

In the past, Oelrich has said Nubeqa would become one of Bayer’s top 15 drugs by the end of 2021. As of the third quarter, though, the androgen receptor antagonist still hasn’t made that list as its sales in the first nine months of 2021 remained lower than the €195 million generated by radiotherapy Xofigo.

During Tuesday’s call, Oelrich didn’t re-commit to the top 15 by year-end projection. Instead, he said Bayer expects Nubeqa’s full-year sales to come in between €200 million to €250 million.

RELATED: ESC 2021: Bayer and Merck's Verquvo stakes its claim as a complementary heart failure treatment

The newly acquired elinzanetant for menopausal symptoms and Merck-shared heart failure drug Verquvo are the other two drugs Bayer figures have blockbuster potentials. 

Together, the four drugs could help Bayer stabilize its pharma franchise when stroke prevention pill Xarelto and eye med Eylea lose market exclusivity.

On Xarelto, Bayer a few days ago celebrated a key win at the European Patent Office, which extended the drug’s patent there until January 2026. The two additional years of protection will allow Bayer to better prepare for the patent cliff and makes it easier to “dovetail the factor XI programs time-wise,” Oelrich said.

The German drugmaker is working on targeting factor XI for new anti-coagulants as follow-ons for Xarelto. Assuming Bayer can get into phase 3 next year, Oelrich said the transition would be more “seamless.”

Xarelto’s third-quarter sales, at €1.19 billion, were hurt by a decline in China, where the drug dropped 11% year over year after generics players won government contracts during a recent volume-based procurement round.

RELATED: AstraZeneca's Pulmicort, Bayer's Xarelto among big losers in China's largest round of price cuts on generics

Liver cancer med Nexavar plummeted 27.8% during the quarter to €113 million, also thanks mainly to China. The drug suffered a double whammy in the country as Eisai’s newer kinase inhibitor Lenvima earned national reimbursement, and as generics stole share with volume-based procurement.

Overall, Bayer’s pharma division enjoyed a 7.1% sales increase at constant currencies to a total of €4.54 billion, mainly thanks to Eylea recovering from a COVID-related slowdown.