Vertex is 'humming' with triple combo launch Trikafta underway: analyst

Vertex is in the early stages of its all-important Trikafta launch, but, at least so far, things are going according to plan.

The first patients have been prescribed the triple-combo cystic fibrosis (CF) drug, and reimbursement discussions have begun, Vertex Chief Commercial Officer Stuart Arbuckle said on Wednesday's third-quarter conference call. The drugmaker expects the drug's ramp-up to take longer than other launches because there's a large number of eligible patients and a large number of CF centers needed to reach them all, said. But eventually, Vertex believes Trikafta can treat up to 90% of CF patients.

Importantly, the drugmaker expects a "significant portion" of patients already on Vertex's CF drugs Kalydeco, Orkambi and Symdeko will switch to the new offering, so its growth could come at the expense of those older meds.

In the third quarter, Vertex turned in CF revenues of $950 million, a 21% jump versus the same period last year. The growth is the result of more patients globally taking Vertex's CF drugs, Arbuckle said. The company is seeing uptake “across multiple products and multiple populations,” he added. 

RELATED: Vertex lands $6B-plus triple combo nod for CF drug Trikafta—5 months early 

Symdeko generated the biggest portion of the company's overall haul with $404 million in third-quarter sales, trailed by $297 million for Orkambi and $249 million for Kalydeco. Symdeko revenues beat analyst expectations, while Kalydeco and Orkambi each posted slight misses, according to a note from RBC Capital Markets analysts.

The drugmaker turned in non-GAAP earnings per share of $1.23, beating consensus estimates of $1.15. With the results, Vertex affirmed its guidance of $3.7 billion to $3.75 billion in 2019 revenues. The company expects R&D and other expenses to come in at $2.35 billion to $2.45 billion for the year. 

The company's core business is "humming," Jefferies analyst Michael Yee wrote in a note to clients, while the "train [is] taking off soon" on its Trikafta launch. Analysts believe the drug is a multibillion-dollar opportunity, even if it'll steal some share from the company's existing meds. 

RELATED: Vertex opens up $500M in sales with landmark CF deal in England

The third-quarter results come right on the heels of Vertex’s major access deal in England. The drugmaker had been in a stalemate with officials there over Orkambi and other drugs for years, but they finally reached an agreement this month that’ll provide access for thousands of patients. Analysts predicted it’ll open up about $500 million in annual revenues.