Bayer's Eylea challenges Novartis eye drug for share of new market

Bayer's Eylea has a new field for fighting Lucentis. The eye drug won a new approval in Europe, in patients with macular degeneration due to central retinal vein occlusion, setting it up for another market-share battle against Novartis ($NVS).

But Novartis' rival drug has the first-to-market advantage. And a slightly bigger patient pool, RVO-wise: European regulators approved Lucentis in 2011 for macular edema caused by occlusion to the central retinal vein or one of its branches. The drug brought in $1.2 billion for Novartis during the first half of 2013, partly because of new approvals in RVO and diabetic macular edema.

More than 66,000 patients in major European countries suffer from CRVO, Bayer says. That's not nearly so large as the wet age-related macular degeneration group. But if growth in this area mimics Bayer's results in wet AMD, then the German drugmaker can still significantly add to Eylea sales. Launched in November, Eylea brought in just $19 million by year's end. But for the first quarter of 2013, the drug delivered $64.8 million. By June 30, Bayer had racked up another $95.6 million--$160.4 million for the first half of the year.

One analyst has said that Eylea, also known as VEGF Trap-Eye, might be preferred by doctors for RVO patients. Citing physician interviews, Bloomberg Industries analyst Andrew Berens told FirstWord Pharma that the drug was seen to bind more tightly to the VEGF protein implicated in the disease.

That preference is certainly debatable. The more definite distinction for Eylea is cost. In the U.S., the drug has managed to steal market share because of a lower per-dose price and a shorter dosing schedule. In Europe, which is even more price-sensitive, selling Eylea at a discount to Lucentis may tip the scales in Bayer's favor.

Lucentis' first-half sales in Europe, impressive as they are, marked a small uptick year-over-year. Novartis blamed the slow growth on price cuts required to win reimbursement for new indications. Because those discounts tend to be secret, there's no way of knowing where Lucentis stands on price, compared with Eylea. We'll have to wait and see how Bayer's sales stack up for the second half.

- read the release from Bayer

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