Can Pfizer get Xeljanz, Xtandi pumping while it waits for pipeline help?

Xtandi
Pfizer's Xtandi market share in nonmetastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer is double that of competitor Erleada's, company executives said Tuesday. (Pfizer)

X marks the spot for Pfizer—that is, the spots where its products are struggling to live up to expectations.

Analysts pointed to weaker-than-expected showings from both anti-inflammatory drug Xeljanz and cancer-fighter Xtandi in the first quarter—two products the company is counting on to deliver as blockbuster Lyrica prepares to face generics and closely watched pipeline products inch toward the market. Xeljanz’s $423 million fell well below Wall Street’s $490 million prediction, while Xtandi’s $168 million missed a consensus $186 million forecast.

As Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla reassured investors on Pfizer’s earnings conference call, though, both products still have plenty of room to ramp up. Xeljanz, for its part, has two launches underway, in psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis. Thirteen percent of the 34% in total volume growth it put up in the first quarter came from those new indications, he pointed out.

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Of course, to keep growth coming in the crowded anti-inflammatory field, Xeljanz will have to battle major competitors, including Novartis’ Cosentyx and Eli Lilly’s Taltz in psoriatic arthritis. AbbVie’s Skyrizi, another next-generation biologic, is looking to join the ulcerative colitis party, and Johnson & Johnson execs have said Stelara—already approved in Crohn’s disease—could move into that indication, too.  

RELATED: Pfizer's Xtandi blows by Johnson & Johnson's Erleada with hot start in new prostate cancer field

Xtandi, meanwhile, isn’t that far into a big launch of its own, Pfizer biopharma President Angela Hwang reminded investors on the call. It rolled out just eight months ago in nonmetastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), and its market share is “already equivalent” to what it holds in the metastatic setting, where it launched seven years ago.

And while it’s facing stiff competition as well—that would be Erleada, Johnson & Johnson’s follow-up drug to blockbuster Zytiga—it has “more than double” the share of Erleada in nonmetastatic CRPC, Hwang said, listing inventory differences and Pfizer’s free drug program among reasons Xtandi’s revenues have been lagging behind demand.

Luckily for Pfizer, some of its other heavy hitters came through to beat expectations—blockbuster vaccine Prevnar 13 and new-age anticoagulant Eliquis among them. Breast cancer therapy Ibrance, while only producing 2% growth in the U.S., met its sales marks with $1.1 billion thanks to 107% operational growth outside the U.S.

All in all, revenues of $13.1 billion for the quarter topped the $12.9 billion consensus estimate, while earnings per share of 85 cents surpassed forecasts by 10 cents. And the way Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan sees it, those results “are good enough given the pressure the stock has felt in recent weeks,” he wrote in a note to clients.

RELATED: Pfizer's suffering from generics, but 'innovation for growth'—not big M&A—is still the mantra

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pfizer earnings call if analysts didn’t harp on business development, in which Bourla said the company plans to stay active as it looks to enhance its pipeline

Expect to see Pfizer “focus generally on earlier to mid-stage opportunities,” John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, said on the call. With those types of deals, the risks may be bigger, but “we believe that the opportunity for value creation is greater,” he said.

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