Seasoned reps could help Aclaris' Eskata with a pleasantly surprising launch: analyst

As Aclaris Therapeutics goes all-in on its launch for lesion treatment Eskata, at least one analyst thinks it could raise eyebrows among some investors—in a good way.

The way Jefferies analyst David Steinberg sees it, while Wall Street’s “expectations are very low” for the raised seborrheic keratosis (SK) treatment’s rollout, “it could potentially surprise to the upside,” he wrote recently in a note to clients.

One reason? Aclaris’ experienced sales force, which “appears to be a very high-caliber group,” he pointed out. Among the 50 reps, 90% of them have five or more years of dermatology experience, and 70% have buy-and-bill experience. And that’s experience Aclaris CEO Neal Walker says will serve the company well.

“There’s a lot of relationships that the reps bring to the table, having called on certain dermatologists,” he said in an interview. “It’s good to kind of reintroduce themselves rather than meet [the doctors] for the first time.” He cited consolidation in the dermatology field that’s benefited “companies like ours in terms of being able to recruit the right talent.”

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Aclaris is also putting together a lineup of doctors to help influence their peers when it comes to using Eskata, and right now its roster is 60-strong. Building that “core group of doctors that has utilized the product” is particularly key in the self-pay aesthetic market, Walker said, and “we'll have that core group of evangelizers make sure they’re driving peer-to-peer programs” moving into the second quarter.

Dermatologists themselves aren’t the only ones administering products in the doctors’ office, though, and Aclaris knows it. To account for that fact, the Pennsylvania drugmaker is also working on a physician extender program that’ll focus on physicians assistants and nurse practitioners.

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While Aclaris may be “launching Eskata into a highly motivated patient population with willingness to pay for effective therapies,” as Leerink Partners analyst Seamus Fernandez earlier this month, the company will have its challenges. Eighty-three million patients in the U.S. have SK, but only 18.5 million are consulting dermatologists about it, Walker said, meaning it’ll be up to the company to get the word out. Direct-to-consumer promos could play a role, and the company will look at its options there in the latter half of the year, Walker said.

“I think that’s always the challenge when you’re going after brand-new kind of greenfield indications—just educating the market and educating investors about the market’s size, versus something like psoriasis that’s very well characterized these days,” he said.