AbbVie, J&J gallop toward first-line Imbruvica sales with new survival data

Imbruvica partners Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and AbbVie ($ABBV) are counting on their blood cancer star Imbruvica to move up into earlier lines of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) therapy, where the market potential is bigger. And now, they've got some trial data to support that move.

In a Phase III study evaluating Imbruvica against traditional chemo in previously untreated CLL or small lymphocytic leukemia patients aged 65 and older, the med boosted progression-free survival, hitting the trial's primary endpoint. It also improved overall survival and the overall response rate in those patients, results that had J&J and AbbVie pleased.

"Imbruvica continues to demonstrate its strong value and we are very optimistic that it will eventually move into the front-line treatment setting, becoming an alternative option to chemotherapy for previously untreated CLL patients," AbbVie chief Richard Gonzalez said in a statement.

AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez

A front-line indication would swell sales for the partners, bringing the drug to a larger population that stays on the therapy for longer. On that front, the companies also have an ongoing Phase III study testing the drug in younger patients who are better able to withstand chemo, Mark Wildgust, global medical affairs leader at J&J's Janssen unit, told FiercePharmaMarketing last week at ASCO.

Of course, a first-line CLL nod would only provide a piece of the $7 billion in peak sales Gonzalez has predicted AbbVie will reap from Imbruvica--a number that calculates out to about $11.5 billion to $12 billion in end-user sales, given J&J's share of the med, Evercore ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum wrote in March. Shortly after agreeing to shell out $21 billion for Imbruvica partner Pharmacyclics a couple months back, the Illinois pharma's skipper told investors the drug could expand into other B-cell malignancies, too--like multiple myeloma.

And Wildgust, for his part, agrees that Imbruvica is going places. CLL "is really just the beginning of the story," he said.

- read the release

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