GlaxoSmithKline's Anoro tops Boehringer's Stiolto in head-to-head COPD tilt

GSK building
GlaxoSmithKline's inhaled respiratory medications are suffering under payer pressure, executives said on the company's third-quarter earnings call.

The LAMA/LABA market is a crowded one, but GlaxoSmithKline has some new data in hand that it hopes can give it a leg up on a Boehringer Ingelheim rival.

In a head-to-head study of Glaxo’s Anoro Ellipta and Boehringer’s Stiolto Respimat, Anoro came out on top, posting a superior performance when it came to improving lung function over an eight-week period.

The study was the first to pit two LAMA/LABAs against one another, and that’s exactly why GSK did it, according to Eric Dube, SVP and global respiratory head at the drugmaker. “The challenge for healthcare professionals to date has been the lack of differentiation within the LAMA/LABA class,” he said in a statement.

RELATED: Boehringer faces uphill battle for Stiolto, thanks to payer arm-twisting

The way Boehringer sees it, though, the study—which involved 236 COPD patients—“can’t be translated into clinically meaningful outcomes, including lung function, symptom improvement or quality of life.”

“It is speculative to draw any conclusions from the outcomes reported. Additional studies are needed to corroborate these results before making or changing any treatment decisions,” the company added in an emailed statement, citing the trial’s “limited population.”  

Glaxo certainly wouldn’t mind any respiratory boost the data could bring. While its Ellipta medications are growing in terms of volume—between Anoro and fellow newcomer Incruse, total scripts were up 70% year-over-year in the third quarter, CEO Emma Walmsley said on last week’s earnings call, while new-to-brand prescriptions rose by 38%—payer pressure is hurting sales.

“The commercial environment remains challenging, especially in our inhaled respiratory business, where we face a highly competitive market that we expect will result in continued pricing pressures through 2018,” CFO Simon Dingemans told investors, adding that, “the run rates for discounts and rebates across our inhaled respiratory products”—particularly older ones such as Advair—“continue to move higher.”

RELATED: New data in hand, AstraZeneca gears up to take Duaklir into crowded U.S. COPD space

That market is only set to get more competitive, too, as AstraZeneca looks to bring its second LAMA/LABA product into the fold. The company, which already markets Bevespi Aerosphere in the U.S., is on track to submit a new drug application to the FDA in the first half of next year for Duaklir; it said in September.

Meanwhile, GSK does have a new weapon in its arsenal in the form of closed triple therapy Trelegy Ellipta, but investors shouldn’t expect major top-line contributions anytime soon, both Walmsley and Dingemans cautioned on the call.

“Building Trelegy to its full potential will take some time as we get coverage in place,” Dingemans said.