In pleasant surprise for Roche, Vabysmo blasts off as company's biggest growth driver

Industry watchers knew Roche’s Vabysmo would be a threat to Regeneron’s Eylea, but they didn’t foresee just how fast the new dual-action eye drug would grow.

Vabysmo went on a tear in the first quarter, generating 432 million Swiss francs ($486 million) in global sales. That number marked a 40% increase over the three months prior and came in 28% ahead of analyst projections.

The wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular edema (DME) drug is now “the biggest growth driver” for Roche, CEO Thomas Schinecker said during an investor call Wednesday. For a drug that won its FDA nod in January 2022, Vabysmo is now tracking to $2 billion in annual sales, he noted.

In addition to attracting new patients, Vabysmo is also luring patients from rival medicines, namely Eylea, currently the anti-VEGF market leader. Even before Vabysmo’s stellar quarter, both Regeneron and its ex-U.S. partner Bayer reported disappointing Eylea sales at the end of 2022.

Vabysmo has captured 12% of the AMD market share and 5% of the DME share, Roche’s pharma chief Teresa Graham said on the Wednesday call. About 70% to 80% of switches to Vabysmo are coming from Eylea, according to Roche.

“This is all demand-driven,” Graham said of Vabysmo’s growth. “I think you can really see the dual action, the drying and the durability story ... really resonating with patients and physicians.”

Vabysmo targets both VEGF and Ang-2 and is thought to offer longer-lasting effects than older VEGF inhibitors. In addition, Roche just released more post-hoc analyses from four phase 3 studies showing Vabysmo worked better at drying retinal fluid than Eylea did in AMD and DME.

Once physicians start seeing Vabysmo’s benefits in their switching patients, they’ll likely start most of their treatment-naïve patients on Vabysmo, Graham said. That’s “the inflection point that we’re quickly getting to,” she added.

What’s more, Roche in February unveiled new data from two Eylea head-to-head phase 3 trials in retinal vein occlusion (RVO). Vabysmo matched up to Eylea on improvements in vision, and more patients on the Roche drug had no blood vessel leakage in the retina compared with Eylea takers.

Although smaller than AMD, RVO represents about 15% of the $15 billion retinal disease market, Graham noted. Roche is planning to file Vabysmo for RVO later this year.

But the rivalry between Vabysmo and Eylea isn’t settled yet. After spending an FDA priority review voucher, Regeneron is expecting an FDA decision by June 27 for a high-dose version of Eylea, which could be dosed less frequently. The high-dose formulation's clinical data have received glowing reviews from analysts.

Vabysmo is leading a constable of new drugs that are charging growth at Roche as the Swiss company navigates the decline of its old cancer drugs and COVID-related products. In the first quarter, Roche’s pharma department enjoyed 9% sales growth at constant currencies, reaching 11.7 billion Swiss francs.

Multiple sclerosis antibody Ocrevus, hemophilia A therapy Hemlibra, HER2-targeted Perjeta and PD-L1 inhibitor Tecentriq all generated double-digit sales growth, although some at a slower rate than analysts had expected.

Graham just took over the pharma baton from Bayer-headed Bill Anderson. Her priorities now include ensuring that Roche has an innovative pipeline and delivering those meds to patients as quickly as possible, Graham told reporters on a separate call Wednesday.

She’ll also work to ensure Roche has the kind of culture to provide “world-class customer experiences” and develops an environment to attract the best talent, Graham said.