Eylea data blurs dosing advantage over Lucentis

Some new data take the edge off Bayer and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals' ($REGN) eye drug Eylea. Second-year results from head-to-head studies against Roche's Lucentis found that the drugs worked equally well at treating patients with wet age-related macular degeneration, when dosed on an as-needed basis. Patients using Eylea did have fewer injections during their second year of treatment, but the difference--an average of 4.2 for Eylea, versus 4.7 for Lucentis--wasn't enough to brag about, analysts said.

The second-year data follows first-year results that showed Eylea delivering equal eyesight improvements with significantly fewer doses. That data, from two separate studies, persuaded FDA to approve Eylea last month. During that first year, Lucentis patients got monthly injections, while Eylea patients received monthly shots for the first quarter of treatment, then injections every two months for the rest of the year. The difference in dosing was seen as a selling point for Eylea against Lucentis.

Now, though, that selling point has been blunted, Phil Nadeau of Cowen & Co. wrote in an investor note (as quoted by Bloomberg): "These data will reduce Eylea's perceived differentiation from Lucentis with respect to both convenience and price." Jefferies & Co.'s Biren Amin had a similar take: "We view this as a negative for Regeneron as Eylea appears to offer no meaningful advantage in efficacy or dosing post-year 1 at an uncompetitive price, translating to increased challenges against gaining market share." Indeed, in Baird's view, "Net-net, Roche's marketing efforts got a slight boost as a result of today's release."

Baird analysts figure price will become "an increasingly prominent distinction" between Eylea and Lucentis. Already, Eylea has a slightly cheaper price tag, at $1,850 per shot compared with $1,950 for Lucentis. But then there's the wild card: Avastin, the Roche cancer drug that's commonly used off-label to treat AMD. It costs a fraction of that amount.

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