Pfizer cancer chief touts up-and-coming portfolio, sees pricing advantage on immunotherapies

Like many of its Big Pharma rivals, Pfizer sees big growth in oncology, and it’s putting big money into researching new meds and developing on-market drugs for new uses.

But unlike some of its competitors, Pfizer doesn’t get enough credit for its cancer business, Liz Barrett, global head of its oncology business, said at the UBS Global Health Care Conference Monday.

Sure, Pfizer’s new breast cancer drug Ibrance has plenty of buzz. It’s already captured 40% of its current market, Barrett said, and the targeted med on its way to new uses in early disease and for patients with a variety of other genetic mutations. The drug brought in $723 million last year, and $429 million in the first quarter.

“[W]e’re standard of care for new patients,” Barrett said, and this only just over a year after its February 2015 launch.

But Barrett gave shout-outs to older meds Sutent, Xalkori and Inlyta as well. For one thing, the lung cancer fighter Xalkori just won a new targeted approval for patients with the ROS1 biomarker. It’s an “even smaller” patient group than its first approval in ALK-positive cancer, but a group likely to use the drug for a longer period of time, she said. 

As for Inlyta, a kidney cancer med approved in 2012, it already faces competition from immuno-oncology, Barrett admitted. But Pfizer won’t be trying to beat those meds--it'll join them. The company is studying Inlyta in combination with immunotherapies, including its own avelumab, developed with Merck KGaA, and Merck & Co.’s Keytruda.

And immunotherapy cocktails are the coming thing, with dozens of combo trials testing multiple permutations. Putting targeted meds alongside immuno-oncology treatments is part of that mix, and Barrett sees a big role for Inlyta there. “[W]e expect it to be the preferred agent for combination,” she said, going on to add, “[W]e do believe that ultimately we'll win in renal cell carcinoma.”

Pfizer also has a laundry list of other potential combos, which brought up a question from UBS analyst Marc Goodman: What about pricing? If each drug costs, say, $100,000, then would three together in a cocktail cost $300,000?

“Absolutely no,” Barrett said.

Down the road, as these cocktails hit the market, Barrett expects payers to move away from their current rebate focus and toward different pricing models. And Pfizer will be thinking of ways to price combination meds that will make its own cocktails competitive.

How? The company has multiple types of immune-therapies under its own roof, Barrett pointed out, unlike some other companies that are relying on cocktails that combine their own meds with candidates from other companies. “And that's why I think we feel really good about our future and where we are,” she said. Pfizer will “be able to have access to multiple medicines and be able to be in a unique position to price them.”

Meanwhile, U.S. payers will have to adjust their thinking somehow, she said, pointing out that single-payer systems overseas have a longer-term outlook on how drugs are used. In the U.S., patients move from plan to plan every two years on average, she said. So they’re more focused on their drug spending year by year, rather than what drug spending can deliver in savings over the long term.

- see the conference transcript at Seeking Alpha

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