Watch out, Humira? Eli Lilly courts physicians with blockbuster-topping Taltz data

When it comes to immunology, every drug is chasing AbbVie’s megablockbuster Humira, which sits alone at the top. To get doctors to switch, drugmakers need some compelling data—and Eli Lilly thinks it has just that for psoriatic arthritis (PsA) challenger Taltz.

In a head-to-head matchup, Taltz bested Humira in reducing PsA disease activity by half and completely clearing patient skin after 24 weeks, according to late-breaking data from a phase 3b/4 study set to be presented Saturday at the European College of Rheumatology meeting in Madrid.

Thirty-six percent of the 234 trial patients treated with Taltz hit both markers at 24 weeks, topping Humira, which saw only 28% of patients accomplish the same, Lilly said. Taltz also hit its secondary endpoints of matching Humira in disease activity and beating out the blockbuster in clearing skin. On the side-effects side, though, Taltz showed a higher rate of infections and injection-site reactions.

“Head-to-head data like these are significant and help inform treatment decisions,” said Dr. Philip Mease of the Swedish Medical Center/Providence St. Joseph Health and University of Washington in a release. “This study underscores that Taltz is an important option for healthcare providers to consider for their patients.”

The head-to-head data provide a compelling case for physicians to switch to Taltz from Humira, which has a major head start in PsA. But even with strong data in hand, Lilly will still have a tough job pulling away docs who have “confidence” in the older drug, said Anabela Cardoso, Lilly’s senior medical director.

“We designed this study thinking about patient needs and real-world practice, and thinking about how we can provide more information for physicians and patients to have more data to make more choices,” she said.

Cardoso focused on the study’s promising results in improving joint inflammation, which had been a concern for physicians considering the drug for their patients.

“There has been an impression in rheumatology that Taltz is a fast biologic for the treatment of psoriasis, but they were not so reassured about the joints, which is the main concern of patients who come into a rheumatologist’s office,” she said. “With these data we have shown that Taltz is not similar but is superior in a setting that is close to clinical practice.”

RELATED: Eli Lilly's Taltz touts long-term clear skin data after unimpressive first-quarter sales

Lilly is hoping the Humira-topping data—along with new five-year clear skin data in plaque psoriasis—will help its embattled drug make a strong push after a disappointing first quarter of sales.

In data from another study presented this week at the World Congress of Dermatology meeting in Milan, Taltz significantly cleared skin in 94.3% of moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis patients and maintained totally clear skin in 46.6% of patients. Those strong results could help Taltz overcome a $252 million quarter in global sales, which significantly undershot analysts’ forecast of $300 million.

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

Taltz is not only facing Humira in PsA, but also archrival Novartis’ Cosentyx, which secured an FDA nod for that use in January 2016, almost two years ahead of Taltz. Cosentyx has already beat Taltz to the punch with five-year clear skin data of its own. Taltz is also taking on Pfizer’s Xeljanz, which received an FDA nod for PsA the same month as Taltz.