Bristol Myers Squibb execs tout progress on Zeposia, Reblozyl and Onureg launches

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Bristol Myers Squibb, integrating Celgene, is busy with several drug launches and is working to advance its pipeline. (BMS)

Though it's still integrating its Celgene buy, Bristol Myers Squibb already looks quite different than it did this time last year. One reason for that? New drug launches that not only moved from the pipeline column to the FDA-approved portfolio, but also saw their rollouts revamped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reblozyl, approved in April to treat anemia in adults with lower-risk myelodysplastic syndromes, has seen early uptake from a “bolus” of patients who were awaiting a treatment option, CFO David Elkins told analysts. The drugmaker is “very encouraged” by demand, he added, and is in the very early stages of launches in other countries.

The med scored approval to treat anemia in adults with beta thalassemia last November, and it's the most commercially successful drug among BMS’ new launches so far. It pulled in $96 million in the third quarter and $159 million so far this year. 

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While the COVID-19 pandemic forced BMS to take the launch virtual, the company also quickly acknowledged an opportunity to promote the drug's ability to reduce patients' reliance on blood transfusions, BMS hematology president Nadim Ahmed previously said in an interview.

RELATED: Bristol Myers Squibb hematology chief talks COVID-19 challenges, opportunities in blood cancer therapies

Elsewhere in its class of new meds, BMS has been able to negotiate “strong” commercial access for Zeposia, a multiple sclerosis drug approved in March, Elkins said on Thursday's call. BMS is “pleased” with how doctors have been receptive to the new option in a competitive field, he added. Zeposia's rollout was delayed by the pandemic, though, and so far it has generated just $3 million. 

Then, in September, the company scored a nod for Onureg tablets—an oral version of Vidaza—as a continued treatment for certain acute myeloid leukemia patients after successful chemotherapy. The company has its work cut out on that launch, as the market is “largely underdeveloped” because there were previously no approved drugs in the setting, Elkins said. But BMS’ message is “resonating well” so far, he added. The drug generated $3 million in the third quarter. 

BMS has had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic for the Onureg launch, but it's been able to promote the med's oral route of administration at a time when many patients are staying home.

Lastly among its new launches, the JAK inhibitor Inrebic—a legacy Celgene drug approved last summer as a first-line or follow-up treatment for myelofibrosis—brought in $13 million for the quarter and $40 million for the first 9 months of the year. While Inrebic has been disrupted by the pandemic, it's also an oral option and is the first new treatment in nearly a decade approved to treat the disease, Ahmed said.

Aside from increasing digital efforts to promote its new drugs and raise awareness, BMS also quickly made its labs and factories safe for employees to resume their critical work, and started a patient assistance program for people who lost work during the pandemic.

RELATED: Bristol Myers, Acceleron's Reblozyl moves closer to blockbusterland with new blood disorders nod 

But the combined drugmaker has also seen setbacks amid the integration effort. The FDA in May rejected BMS' application for multiple myeloma cell therapy candidate ide-cel. BMS refiled the drug in late July, and the FDA set a March 2021 decision deadline. 

As for BMS’ more established medicines, blood thinner Eliquis posted a 9% revenue increase during the third quarter to $2.1 billion despite the company having to pay bigger discounts in Medicare’s coverage gap this year. Total prescriptions grew 18% in the United States during the third quarter, but sales were down 1% on price declines. Aside from the coverage gap change, more patients were on Medicare, the company said. 

BMS' key immuno-oncology med Opdivo, struggling amid competition with Merck’s Keytruda, posted a 2% sales decline versus the same period last year to $1.78 billion. Execs stressed the med returned to sequential growth during the period, growing 2% from the second quarter. 

RELATED: Analysts to Bristol Myers Squibb: Can I-O hit Opdivo really return to growth? 

Lastly, Revlimid, the blood cancer med brought in with the Celgene buy, continued its dominant performance, pulling in $3 billion during the quarter. The company in September inked a patent settlement with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and expects to steer clear of generics until March 2022 at the earliest, and even then competition will be limited for several years. 

In all, the company posted a 6% pro forma revenue increase to $10.5 billion during the quarter.

On the heels of the company’s recent deals to buy MyoKardia and Forbius, and license an IL-12 medicine from Dragonfly, the company will continue to be active in business development, Elkins told analysis.