Discounting hit J&J's Xarelto hard. Can a new launch turn things around?

xarelto
Xarelto sales slid by 14.4% in Q4. (Johnson & Johnson)

Competition and discounting are understandably plaguing Johnson & Johnson's older drugs. But its cardiovascular blockbuster Xarelto is also on that list.

The New Jersey drugmaker reported a 14.4% dip in fourth-quarter sales for the anticoagulant, which competes against Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb's hotshot Eliquis and Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa. J&J attributed the ding to U.S. discounting in the competitive market.

But that's not to say J&J doesn't have plans to counteract that trend. With a recent blockbuster nod in coronary and peripheral artery disease in hand, though, company leaders hope they can soon reverse the trajectory.

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“We would expect the CAD and PAD indications to be a differentiating factor moving forward” and to “expand not only market share for the brand but also the market itself, as it’s going to reach a broader base of patients,” execs said on the company’s earnings conference call.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson one-ups Eliquis as Xarelto nabs $1.5B FDA nod in artery disease

Johnson & Johnson is certainly hoping so, as it’s already dealing with declines for its elderly treatments. Generics to prostate cancer med Zytiga triggered a 12.7% drop in U.S. sales, while hypertension giant Tracleer declined by 25.7% worldwide as follow-up Opsumit gained ground and European generics picked up steam. Meanwhile, anti-inflammatory blockbuster Remicade is clinging to a whopping 93% of its market despite biosimilar competition, though discounts brought its U.S. sales down by 21.4% for the quarter.

Q4 pharma sales still grew by 5.3% worldwide despite those hurdles, though, thanks in large part to the company’s cancer and immunology units. Sales of multiple myeloma-fighter Darzalex skyrocketed by nearly 60% globally, and based on Q3 data, the drug recorded a six-point increase in U.S. market share across all lines of therapy, said Chris DelOrifice, J&J’s VP of investor relations. Fellow cancer treatment Imbruvica saw sales climb by 34.7%, gaining four points of U.S. share as of Q3 and taking the title as new patient and total patient share leader in chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

RELATED: J&J still sees plenty of opportunity in crowded immunology markets—starting with psoriasis

On the immunology side, Stelara’s worldwide sales leapt by 33.6% on the back of a solid launch in Crohn’s disease, while execs praised the launch of Tremfya, a drug that’s nabbed a 6.6% share of an ultracompetitive U.S. psoriasis market since its July 2017 debut.

J&J is going to need those drugs to keep up their contributions, especially as it “plans for continued price decreases on a net basis into the future.” But considering the $3 billion to $3.5 billion headwind generics and biosimilars threw its way last quarter, the pharma giant’s execs said they feel like it’s in good shape.

“It’s a great testament to just the strength of the innovative portfolio we have in the pharmaceutical segment,” they noted, adding, “we’re still talking about growth. Most companies would be talking about contraction.”

But J&J doesn't have great expectations for 2019 overall—or at least not as strong as analysts expected. Its sales forecast for the year amounted to 1% growth at most, or flat at the least. 

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