Novartis' Cosentyx can't top AbbVie's Humira in head-to-head psoriatic arthritis contest

Eli Lilly’s Taltz and Novartis’ Cosentyx have been battling it out lately in the next-gen psoriatic arthritis field. But Lilly’s drug has a big win under its belt that Novartis can’t tout.

Friday, the Swiss drugmaker said Cosentyx failed to outdo AbbVie behemoth Humira in a head-to-head trial in active psoriatic arthritis patients. While Cosentyx helped more patients numerically reach ACR20—a benchmark on a commonly used scale from the American College of Rheumatology to measure joint swelling and more—its lead wasn’t statistically relevant, Novartis said.

The company was upbeat about the miss, though, stressing that “we view the results as confirming our vision of Cosentyx becoming standard of care in psoriatic arthritis,” Eric Hughes, Novartis’ global development head of immunology, hepatology and dermatology, said in a statement.

RELATED: Lilly's Taltz beats out AbbVie's megadrug Humira in psoriatic arthritis showdown

But the thing is, Cosentyx’s archrival—Lilly’s fellow IL17A drug Taltz—topped Humira last year in its own head-to-head tilt. In a study of psoriatic arthritis patients who hadn’t yet been treated with a biologic, patients taking Taltz showed more symptom improvement at week 24 than those who’d taken the megablockbuster.

As Novartis was quick to point out, Lilly didn’t necessarily succeed specifically where Novartis failed. The trials were designed differently, and Novartis’ study, called Exceed, was “the first-ever monotherapy head-to-head trial with a primary endpoint in psoriatic arthritis specific to joints,” Hughes’ statement said.

Still, only one of the two has a Humira-topping win to its name, and that’s Taltz, which amped up the rivalry in psoriasis by snagging a psoriatic arthritis nod in late 2017.

RELATED: AbbVie eyes 2nd Rinvoq nod as it hits its marks in psoriatic arthritis

Meanwhile, both drugmakers have more to worry about than each other—and Humira and its biosimilars, of course—when it comes to psoriatic arthritis. Pfizer’s Xeljanz picked up its own go-ahead in the field in late December, and its fellow JAK inhibitor Rinvoq, from AbbVie, inched toward an approval this week with positive phase 3 data.

Whether that class can hang with the IL17As, though, may come down to safety: JAKs have turned up some red flags lately, and the FDA’s responded with corresponding labeling.