JPM: Regeneron execs say 'it's a problem' how few COVID-19 patients are getting antibody treatments

Len Schleifer
Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer said Monday that the company's antibody cocktail could help fend off recently identified COVID-19 variants. (WSJ)

To Regeneron, there’s no question about it: “We as a society have to do a much better job” of getting antibody therapies—such as the company’s own—to patients, R&D chief George Yancopoulos said Monday at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

Like Eli Lilly’s single-antibody treatment, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail bears an emergency use authorization in mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients at least 12 years of age who aren't hospitalized but are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19. But while the treatments are available, they’re not seeing anywhere near the level of use they would be if all eligible patients were receiving them.

And “it’s a problem,” Yancopoulos said. “Every day, there are hundreds of thousands of people getting infected that fit the profile where they could benefit from the antibody therapies. They could slow down very significantly the progression of these people into hospitals and into more severe states.

“Right now, the vaccine is not helping any of these people,” he added. “The only thing that can really help these people … are these antibody therapies."

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While there are some hurdles to treatment—the therapies are infused, meaning patients have to first get a prescription and then make their way to an infusion center for administration—Yancopoulos said Regeneron can “work much more closely with the government” to figure out more effective ways to get to cocktail to patients.

That work could become even more critical with the emergence of the COVID-19 variants that have popped up around the globe, CEO Len Schleifer said.

“We think having a cocktail makes it more likely you’ll be able to deal,” he pointed out. “It reduces the likelihood that a single variant can become resistant to both antibodies in the cocktail.”

So far, Regeneron has sold an initial 300,000 doses to the U.S. government, but it’s in negotiations for more, Schleifer said, adding that “we think there’s substantial demand.” That first purchase resulted in net product sales of $144 million in the fourth quarter—lower than some investors may have expected—but Schleifer chalked the discrepancy up to a “timing event,” with product deliveries set for early this quarter.

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Luckily for Regeneron, the cocktail is not one of the products it’s relying on to fuel its revenue growth. Those would be Eylea, its superstar eye treatment that raked in $1.34 billion in the U.S. in Q4 for 10% year-over-year growth and a $4.95 billion year on the whole, and Dupixent, its hotshot immunology launch that Schleifer called “a pipeline of diseases in a drug.”

Together, those products propelled Regeneron to 29% top-line growth through the first nine months of 2020—“no small feat, given the challenges everyone endured this year,” Schleifer noted.

And the way he sees it, there’s more on the way. The company is working on rolling out direct-to-consumer advertising for Eylea in eye diseases, as well as working on a high-dose formulation of the drug that could enable less-frequent dosing. And on the Dupixent front, Regeneron has reached just over 5% of the market thus far—and that’s only taking into account the drug’s current indications.