Bristol-Myers surprise: Threatened I-O drug Opdivo stands its ground in lung cancer

Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo grew by 36% year over year. (Bristol-Myers Squibb)

Investors may be worried about Bristol-Myers Squibb’s future in lung cancer, but in the meantime, the company’s portfolio is firing on all cylinders.

Nearly all of the company’s key products surpassed sales expectations for the second quarter, pushing sales to $5.7 billion. That figure topped a consensus estimate of $5.48 billion and in turn pushed profit to a big beat, too: Earnings per share hit $1.01, smashing Wall Street’s 87 cents prediction.   

Bristol-Myers’ big cancer drugs helped lead the charge, with immuno-oncology star Opdivo generating a $1.63 billion haul that trounced forecasts of $1.46 billion. One reason? The drug has held its ground in the second-line lung cancer market, maintaining a leadership share of about 30% to 35%. And that’s despite a patient pool that’s shrinking thanks to approvals for rival Keytruda from Merck in previously untreated patients.


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Uptake in adjuvant melanoma and first-line kidney cancer also helped fuel the performance; after launching in April, a combination of Opdivo and Yervoy already has 30% of new kidney cancer patient share, CFO Charlie Bancroft said on the company’s second-quarter conference call. Yervoy’s top-line contributions have also swelled with help from that indication, with quarterly sales of $315 million exceeding expectations by $57 million.

RELATED: Bristol-Myers' Opdivo-Yervoy duo snares a quick FDA nod in first-line kidney cancer

Across the pond, though, Opdivo and Yervoy have run into a kidney-cancer hurdle, executives announced on the call. The European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use will be shooting down the regimen in previously untreated patients, a decision CEO Giovanni Caforio, M.D., said “we strongly disagree” with. Bristol-Myers will “pursue a reexamination” of the verdict, he said, adding later that “this development … does not change our perspective” that Opdivo will grow over this year and next.

RELATED: Pfizer, BMS' Eliquis takes J&J's next-gen anticoagulant market-share crown

But as has been the case for the last several quarters, cancer drugs didn’t provide the only highlights for Bristol. Next-gen anticoagulant Eliquis, once a slow starter that surged to usurp the throne in its class, is now poised to knock off warfarin as the leading oral anticoagulant in the U.S., executives said. For the quarter, the drug—which BMS shares with Pfizer—posted growth of 40%, hitting $1.65 billion in sales to top projections of $1.61 billion.

With the second quarter now in the rearview mirror, the New Jersey drugmaker expects worldwide revenues to increase by a figure in the mid- to high single digits this year, it said. It also raised its non-GAAP earnings guidance to between $3.55 to $3.65 per share, up from $3.35 to $3.45.

But while the second quarter may have been a strong one, the pharma giant still has plenty of key data readouts this year that could impact Opdivo’s future potential—and, with it, the company’s. In particular, industry watchers are waiting for more Opdivo-Yervoy data from the front-line lung cancer setting, where Bristol-Myers is hoping to snatch a piece of the pie from Merck.

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