JPM need to know, Day 2: Sanofi's CEO promises, Pfizer's forecasts, Novartis' launches and more

JP Morgan building
Morning has broken at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, and we're tracking the news. (Håkan Dahlström CC by 2.0)

SAN FRANCISCO—Bright and early Tuesday, GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley threw open the doors of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference by totting up her company's impending launches. As the day moved inexorably on, we picked up intelligence from top execs at Pfizer, Takeda, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and more.

Meanwhile, beyond the Westin, FiercePharma's expert panel hashed over gene therapy with Executive Editor Carly Helfand and FierceBiotech's Amirah Al Idrus led a drill-down into machine learning.

And as for the missing mattresses? We heard tell of "Princess and the Pea" piles of them visible through some hotel windows—and we're on the hunt for photographic proof. Tweet it to us if you find it first.

Want more? Check out our Day 1 roundup, and click through for all of FierceBiotech's news and FiercePharma's coverage.

UPDATED: Wednesday, 7:51 a.m. P.T.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said this week the company has to become a “launch machine” to make current and upcoming rollouts pay off. Key to that effort will be its pharma chief, Marie-France Tschudin, who told FiercePharma she's revamping its launch strategies for a new era. Rollouts are more complex now, she said, partly because patients are much more autonomous—in essence, they're “in the driver’s seat." Novartis is finding ways to step in where they do need help. Story

What isn’t Wall Street taking into account when it comes to valuing Pfizer? Plenty, CEO Albert Bourla said during a Tuesday fireside chat. He hasn’t seen revenue projections for many of the company's forthcoming vaccines, Pfizer's gene therapy programs or most of its immuno-inflammation drugs. Thus, “there is a significant gap” between where analysts see Pfizer and where Pfizer sees Pfizer, Bourla said. But the company’s partially responsible. “For many years, we didn’t have an R&D day so we would be able to shine some light on the significant advancements” in its pipeline, he pointed out. That will change this March. He also teased some cost cuts, so some Pfizer units need to brace themselves. Story

When Sanofi has something to celebrate in the future, you’ll know it. That’s one of the pledges CEO Paul Hudson made Tuesday during his JPM presentation—along with shaving costs, improving margins, investing capital in science first and buybacks (much) later, and avoiding the “me too late” syndrome that can afflict drugmakers intent on chasing a proven market. And perhaps—to be frank—a dozen more. The French drugmaker’s new chief, who joined last October, is obviously raring to go, even after months on the road last year visiting Sanofi spots worldwide. “We’re not pretending everything is rosy,” Hudson said after repeating another common pledge—getting blockbuster Dupixent up to megablockbuster, $10 billion-a-year levels. “We are saying we have a sensible plan for delivering.”

UPDATED: Tuesday, 4:24 p.m. P.T.

It’s been just one year since Takeda closed its Shire deal, but the company has already made “huge progress,” according to CEO Christophe Weber. The Japanese drugmaker is operating as one company, and “on the people side,” the integration is done. “It’s a remarkable achievement in terms of timing and speed,” Weber noted. Speaking of big achievements, the company has another one in mind for 2020. It’s aiming to be carbon neutral this year, countering 4.5 million tons of carbon with verified carbon offsets. “It’s a financial commitment that we can do without changing our financial target, and that’s because we have reduced in the past our carbon emissions,” Weber said.

UPDATED: Tuesday, 3:45 p.m. P.T.

When bluebird bio CEO Nick Leschly stood up at J.P. Morgan last year, he talked up the four candidates his company’s advancing toward some tough diseases such as sickle cell, cancer and more. Now he can tout Zynteglo, the company’s first launch in Europe, and the three FDA submissions it's planning this year. To Leschly, the submissions are major milestones in themselves, even if some folks say they'll wait to be impressed until the approvals come through. “I talked to an investor who said, 'I don’t want to watch you put the turkey in the oven, I want to smell it,'" he said. “I don’t know what that means”—cue laughter—but bottom line, the fact that bluebird is that close to three U.S. approvals “is hugely validating” for the company, the CEO said. “Let’s focus on that and you can go buy yourself a turkey.”

Two leading diabetes players took the stage Tuesday afternoon at JPM, first with Eli Lilly and then Novo Nordisk. Lilly’s CEO Dave Ricks said while it’s “early days” in the company’s GLP-1 duel with Novo's new oral Rybelsus, he remains confident in Lilly’s weekly injection Trulicity. Novo is gaining share “to some degree at the expense of Trulicity,” but mostly at the expense of other GLP-1 options, including Novo’s own Victoza, Ricks said. Overall in diabetes, the CEO predicted pricing pressures will stay the same while the drug classes expand. 

Novo's CSO Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen and SVP of global drug discovery Marcus Schindler highlighted how semaglutide—either injectable or oral—shows promise beyond diabetes. The company is pursuing a cardiovascular outcomes trial for the med, plus outcomes tests in diabetic retinopathy and chronic kidney disease, they said. Novo is further testing the med in obesity patients without diabetes, plus non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, otherwise known as NASH, one of the hottest fields in drug development these days. And investigators outside the company have kicked off trials in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

UPDATED: Tuesday, 9:59 a.m. P.T.

Months after nabbing immunology med Otezla from recently acquired Celgene, Amgen is now looking to capitalize on expanding the blockbuster into new indications and international markets in the coming year, CEO Bob Bradway said Tuesday. Amgen picked up the drug from Celgene for a cool $13.4 billion in August, and Bradway said the med would help Amgen flesh out its immunology portfolio in the coming years––assuming the drugmaker can execute. “In biopharma, the focus is on innovation, innovation, innovation, and Amgen is execution, execution, execution,” he said. Story

GSK's chief exec spent some minutes outlining the five—yes, five—new launches her company is expecting in 2020. The British drugmaker anticipates rollouts spanning cancer, HIV and kidney disease, including its long-acting HIV combo of cabotegravir and rilpivirine, which suffered an unexpected delay in December with an FDA complete response letter. Then there are new uses for existing drugs, namely Zejula in first-line ovarian cancer maintenance and Trelegy in asthma. Never fear, though, CEO Emma Walmsley said. GSK is also “very focused on building the pipeline for our next wave of growth." Story

Amid Alexion's efforts to backstop sales of blockbuster Soliris with next-gen follow-up Ultomiris, the company has overseen a patient-switching campaign that has defied expectations. But Alexion isn’t content to only switch patients to Ultomiris. It also wants to take the drug into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis––an indication rife with failures. Fortunately, the drugmaker isn’t making light of the challenge, CEO Ludwig Hantson said Tuesday: “We are aware that this is a high-risk, high reward program." Story