Regeneron's Eylea beats Roche's Lucentis in new head-to-head study

Regeneron's ($REGN) eye drug Eylea picked up steam against two competing products from Roche ($RHHBY), as the first head-to-head study comparing the meds found that Eylea outperformed Lucentis and Avastin in treating moderate to severe vision loss in patients with diabetic macular edema (DME).

Eylea bested Roche's drugs in patients with eyesight equal to or worse than 20/50, but Avastin and Lucentis performed similarly to Regeneron's drug in patients with 20/40 vision or better. Individuals with 20/50 vision or worse scored an average visual-acuity letter score improvement of 18.9 when treated with Eylea, compared to 14.2 for patients treated with Lucentis and 11.8 for individuals taking Avastin, according to the results. The study, which was sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, included 660 participants and was published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. That is equal to being able to read at least one line of smaller print on an eye chart, the study said.

The news bodes well for Regeneron as it looks to edge past Roche in the DME field. Both Eylea and Lucentis have a regulatory OK to treat the condition, which affects almost 750,000 patients in the U.S., but only Roche has FDA approval to use its med to treat diabetic retinopathy in DME patients, an approval it won just this month. The drugs already compete in other indications, including wet age-related macular degeneration.

Positive study results could help Regeneron grow sales for Eylea, which jumped 23% in 2014 to $1.74 billion from a year earlier. The Tarrytown, NY-based company said earlier this month that it expects sales for the drug to grow 25% to 30% this year. Roche's Lucentis raked in $1.7 billion in U.S. sales in 2014, grabbing the fourth place on the company's list of top sellers.

But pricing could also play a role in sales, as Regeneron's drug comes at a higher cost. Eylea runs at $1,950, but should still be used as a first-line therapy for 25% of patients with worse eyesight, Daniel Martin, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic's Cole Eye Institute, told Bloomberg. Since outcomes from the recent study were the same for patients with mild vision loss, patients should receive Roche's Avastin, which rings in at $50 a vial--cheaper still than Eylea and Lucentis' $1,200 per dose, Martin said in an editorial accompanying the study.

Meanwhile, Bayer--which markets Eylea in Europe--is charting progress for the drug across the pond. The company today said U.K. cost watchdog NICE recommended Eylea for the majority of patients with DME, but gave it thumbs-down to treat patients with early stages of the disease. Bayer said it is "committed to working with NICE throughout the appraisal process" to make sure all DME patients have access to Eylea when the cost gatekeeper finalizes its decision. A final word from NICE regarding Eylea is expected in June 2015.

- here's Regeneron's release
- read the Bloomberg story
- and here's Bayer's statement
- read Roche's statement

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