J&J's Duato keeps $60B sales target in sight even as Imbruvica slides and Stelara nears patent cliff

As Johnson & Johnson weathers some hefty losses of exclusivity—plus a surprise revenue blow to its cancer star Imbruvica—the company is holding firm on its aggressive pharmaceutical sales target for the middle of the decade.

J&J remains confident its drugs business can pull down $60 billion in sales by 2025, J&J’s chairman and CEO Joaquin Duato reiterated on a call with investor’s Tuesday.

That growth will be fueled “mainly through the strength of our currently marketed portfolio,” plus potential new indications for the company’s commercial drugs, Duato said.

Still, the CEO flagged a “disconnect” between J&J’s expectations and those of analysts, singling out the company’s high hopes for its multiple myeloma franchise specifically. Duato also pointed to the company’s nasal spray for treatment resistant depression, Spravato, as another underappreciated asset.

Duato’s comments came during a rocky earnings stretch for J&J, marred by generic pressures in Europe, languishing COVID-19 vaccine sales and AbbVie-partnered Imbruvica’s underperformance amid tough competitions from BTK inhibitor rivals.

Worldwide, J&J’s pharmaceutical sales slipped 7.4% to $13.2 billion in the fourth quarter. When taking currency fluctuations out of the mix, J&J’s global pharma sales fell 2.5% on an operational basis. That said, global operational sales grew 3.9% after J&J eliminated its COVID-19 vaccine from the equation.

For the entire year, J&J’s pharma business brought home around $52.6 billion, growing sales 1.7% operationally.

Products like Darzalex, Erleada, Stelara and Tremfya continued to make gains in the last three months of the year, Jessica Moore, J&J’s VP of investor relations, said on the company’s earnings call. But that positive momentum was tempered by losses of exclusivity on Remicade and Zytiga, plus Imbruvica’s sales slump.

For J&J, Imbruvica posted a 12.3% revenue decline to $866 million for the fourth quarter, which Moore chalked up to “competitive pressures and a suppressed [chronic lymphocytic leukemia] market due to COVID-19.” Imbruvica still maintains its market leadership, Moore said, thanks to its years of head start.

Elsewhere, some of J&J’s recent launches are poised to come into their own this year, Moore noted. Specifically, the company expects its CAR-T Carvykti and its depression med Spravato “will meet the threshold to be separately disclosed” starting in the first quarter, Moore said.

That’s good news for J&J, which will need all the revenue assistance it can get once its blockbuster Stelara takes its own tumble over the patent cliff. That med’s loss of exclusivity is expected to hit in “late 2023,” J&J’s CFO Joe Wolk said on the company’s call.

J&J expects Stelara to continue to grow volume in the U.S. up to the loss of exclusivity, Wolk said, caveating that that growth would be offset by “inflation pressure.”

Looking ahead, J&J expects sales to grow about 4.5% in 2023, which translates to a range between $96.9 billion and $97.9 billion. For the first six months of the year, J&J figures pharma sales operational growth will be lower than in the back half of 2023, thanks, once again, to generic competition, plus pricing pressure and efforts to launch new products, CFO Wolk explained.