Eylea may beat Lucentis on price, but what of Avastin?

The Lucentis-versus-Avastin debate just got a bit more complicated. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals ($REGN) won FDA approval for its macular degeneration drug Eylea, putting it in competition with Roche's purpose-built drug Lucentis--and its unwitting off-label competitor Avastin.

Eylea may require fewer injections than either of the Roche drugs, which gives it one potential edge over the existing competition. And Regeneron has priced Eylea lower than Lucentis: just $100 lower on a per-injection basis, but about $8,000 less for a full year's treatment, if the company's less-frequent injection schedule holds true. Eylea will run $1,850 per dose, Bloomberg reports, compared with $2,000 for Lucentis, and $16,000 for a full year, compared with $24,000 for the Roche drug.

That discount, compared with Lucentis, won't put Eylea anywhere close to the cost of Avastin. The cancer drug, when repackaged for doses small enough for use in the eye, runs only about $50 per injection. That's why Avastin has at least 60% of the wet AMD market. But recently, several clusters of serious eye infections--some of which ended in loss of sight in the treated eye--have highlighted the risks of repackaging Avastin in smaller doses.

Analysts are expecting Eylea to peak at $1.1 billion in annual sales by 2021, provided it wins approval for other eye disorders. Lucentis brought in $1.4 billion last year and now has about 40% of the market. Citigroup's Yaron Werber figures Eylea can grab some 16% of the market from Lucentis. "We think doctors want to experiment with the drug and there's a lot of interest," he told Bloomberg.

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