Eli Lilly nabs another breast cancer approval for third-to-the-party Verzenio

Eli Lilly
Eli Lilly's Verzenio was third to market after Pfizer's Ibrance and Novartis' Kisqali. (Eli Lilly)

It’s been just five months since Eli Lilly breast cancer drug Verzenio hit the market, but the product has already racked up three approvals in that span.

Tuesday, the Indianapolis drugmaker nabbed the third of the bunch—a green light for use alongside an aromatase inhibitor in previously untreated, postmenopausal women with HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer.

RELATED: Lilly steps up to rival Pfizer, Novartis with Verzenio breast cancer approval

The OK widens Verzenio’s treatable patient population; back in September, it won go-aheads for use alone and in combination with fulvestrant in women whose disease has progressed after hormone therapy. And it puts the drug on more even footing with rivals Ibrance from Pfizer and Kisqali from Novartis, both of which are already approved for first-line treatment.

That’s key for Lilly, which has work to do as the third-to-the-party entrant. Ibrance has a solid lead in the class, dubbed CDK 4/6, thanks to its speedy approval back in early 2015. And Novartis’ Kisqali followed just over two years later with a March 2017 nod.

Kisqali, however, has struggled in the No. 2 spot, and that’s not a good position for Novartis to be in. On the Swiss pharma giant’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Vas Narasimhan told investors that “we need it to perform towards where we have hoped.”

RELATED: Lilly's phase 3 miss dents Verzenio prospects in hot lung cancer field

And meanwhile, Lilly is determined to avoid the same fate with Verzenio. Unfortunately for the company, a lung-cancer trial that could have helped distinguish the med from its rivals flopped back in October, but Lilly has “several” ongoing studies looking at Verzenio combos in non-small cell lung cancer and elsewhere, executives said at the time.

Also on the bright side, analysts see plenty of room for the med to compete and even hit blockbuster status: Bernstein, for one, has pegged Verzenio’s 2021 sales at $1.3 billion.