Key drugs Repatha, Aimovig flail as cheap copies eat into Amgen sales

As copycats eat into Amgen’s older products, the big biotech is looking to its newer launches to stem the tide. But some of them are not getting it done.

JPMorgan analyst Cory Kasimov name-dropped CGRP migraine med Aimovig and PCSK9 contender Repatha in particular in a note to clients Tuesday, calling their first-quarter sales haul “somewhat discouraging.”

Aimovig sales of $59 million for the period “came in well below” consensus of $82 million, he noted, while Repatha’s $141 million tally also fell short of Wall Street’s $158 million prediction—and that was despite 90% volume growth in the U.S.

So what happened? "The company paid the price for recent aggressive pricing and contracting tactics in its reported sales," SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges wrote in his own investor note. 

On the Repatha side, unit volume growth was “substantially offset by selling price,” Kasimov noted. Amgen pointed to 90% volume growth in the U.S. for the quarter, but Repatha is also sporting a new sticker these days. “Low list price Repatha” bears a list price of just $5,850—a 60% break on the original $14,000 tag that hampered its launch.

Now, the company is looking to discontinue Repatha at its original list price “once we see sufficient coverage in the market,” new commercial chief Murdo Gordon explained to investors on the call, a move Amgen expects to benefit sales long-term. And in the meantime, its next task is to expand availability of a fixed copay to the majority of Medicare Part D patients; currently, only 6% of Medicare patients are at a low fixed copay level of $50, Gordon said.

RELATED: Amgen, Novartis 'overwhelmed' by early interest in migraine drug Aimovig: expert

Meanwhile, Aimovig is leading the CGRP segment, recording 40% new-to-brand share and 60% total prescription share at the end of the first quarter. About 200,000 new patients in the U.S. have tried Aimovig since it launched less than a year ago, Gordon pointed out.

But the company is still giving out 40% of prescriptions for free, he told investors, though he said he expects that proportion to decline.

Amgen is looking for bigger contributions from those drugs down the line, especially as it stares down cheap competition. At-risk generic rivals took a bigger bite out of Sensipar sales in the quarter than analysts expected, and launches for Neulasta biosimilars are rolling on.

RELATED: For sale: Amgen chops 60% off Repatha's $14,520 retail price

Overall, revenue of $5.56 billion was in line with expectations, while earnings per share of $3.56 topped predictions by two cents.

Amgen "reported an in-line quarter; however when legacy assets contribute to the beat and the 'new growth drivers' struggle, it’s not a particularly high quality print," Kasimov wrote in a separate investor note.

Of course, Amgen could still decide to bring in backup through deal-making, something execs have said the company would be game to do. It ended the quarter with $26 billion in cash—plenty to spend on M&A should it decide to go that route.