Bristol-Myers warns I-O blockbuster Opdivo will be 'under pressure' in 2020

Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo had been riding high even amid intense competition, particularly from Merck & Co.'s fast-growing Keytruda. But the immuno-oncology med hit something of a wall in the third quarter, and execs are warning that it'll face a tough 2020.

Opdivo posted just 1% sales growth for the quarter, reaching $1.8 billion as I-O rivals like Merck's Keytruda and Roche's Tecentriq push the Bristol superstar on all sides.

That stagnant sales pace is worrisome in and of itself, but analysts are concerned that the drug's dwindling second-line lung cancer sales and a significant gap before major data readouts in 2020 could put the drug in a tough position next year.

Bristol can take heart that anticoagulant Eliquis continues to swim in cash and its hoped-for merger partner Celgene also posted strong growth for the quarter. Still, Opdivo remains a sales linchpin, and Chris Boerner, Bristol-Myers' chief commercialization officer, said Thursday that the lung cancer bite and trial-data timing could put a damper on Opdivo's sales next year.

The company is also awaiting a potential payoff from two recently-reported studies of Opdivo and its fellow BMS immunotherapy Yervoy in previously untreated lung cancer.

"Given the competitive dynamics in the U.S. and the timing of those regulatory interactions, we still see Opdivo under pressure," Boerner said during the company's Q3 earnings call with analysts.

RELATED: BMS nets another Opdivo lung cancer win—but it still has to beat Merck's high bar