Novartis joins Eisai to push Lenvima and Afinitor combo in U.S.


Japan’s Eisai is counting on its cancer drug Lenvima to help it climb out of the financial malaise it has been in for several years. Now it has a partner in the U.S. to help it reach its blockbuster goals: Novartis ($NVS). The Swiss drugmaker, which faces its own challenges, will promote Lenvima in combination with its own Afinitor (everolimus). The partnership comes after the FDA last month approved the combo to treat certain patients with advanced kidney cancer.

The two said today that they will not share any sales but they will each talk up the combo to healthcare providers and also appear together in some medical affairs events to get the word out. They pointed out that the combo is the first approved that will block two key pathways in advanced renal cell carcinoma and that the FDA granted a breakthrough designation for that indication.  

“With representatives from both Eisai and Novartis promoting Lenvima in combination with everolimus, we believe it will ultimately reach more patients in need, and that is a clear advantage for patients waiting for additional treatment options,” said Ivan Cheung, Americas Region Chairman & CEO, Eisai Inc.

The FDA last year initially approved Lenvima for treating differentiated thyroid cancer, the most prevalent form of thyroid cancer. Then granted it orphan product designation. But Eisai is testing it against other cancers and expects it to hit $1 billion in annual sales by 2020, although that is more than double a forecast from Evaluate Pharma, which pegs its sales at $424 million by 2019. The drugmaker needs the boost after struggling for several years following patent losses on several key drugs, including its Alzheimer's drug Aricept.

Novartis could use a boost as well. Its Q1 sales and earnings suffered, thanks to an early generic version of blockbuster leukemia drug Gleevec, but also because of competition for Afinitor, sales of which were off 2% in constant currencies to $367 million.

The drugmaker is also having to adjust its oncology plans after Pharma Chief David Epstein stepped down last month. Novartis broke his job into two and brought up two Novartis execs to fill the role. Bruno Strigini was given the top spot at the newly created Novartis Oncology, while Paul Hudson takes over the at the revamped Novartis Pharmaceuticals unit.   

- here’s the Eisai release
- read the Novartis announcement

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