GSK, Human Genome gear up for Benlysta launch

Human Genome Sciences ($HGSI) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) are riding high on the news that Benlysta, the first new drug for lupus in more than 50 years, won FDA approval. Apart from being a treatment breakthrough, Benlysta stands to feed billions into both companies' revenue streams, with estimates for peak sales running at around $2.3 billion to $3 billion for the U.S. and $3.6 billion to $5 billion globally.

It won't be an overnight thing, however. Although Benlysta's expected sticker price of $35,000 per year is in line with other auto-immune disease treatments, it's still more expensive than older therapies, and payers may want to make sure patients aren't getting enough relief on cheaper drugs. Plus, while doctors were thrilled by the new treatment option, the prescription uptake could be slow at first as folks get an idea of how Benlysta works in the real world.

The two companies have a sales force of 150 ready and waiting to pitch the drug. Human Genome said that about 90 percent of the reps have experience selling biologic drugs to rheumatologists, the specialists who tend to treat lupus patients. That expertise could help doctors with the reimbursement process, Dow Jones reports. GSK and Human Genome will split both sales and costs.

Benlysta's launch will come before the end of the month, the companies said. Sanford Bernstein analyst Geoffrey Porges told Reuters that manufacturing will have to move into high gear soon. "[T]hey are going to have to ramp up production of the product pretty quickly," Porges said. "The initial adoption is going to be fairly modest this year."

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