Eisai's launch for 'crown jewel' Lenvima tracking better than execs expected

Eisai's Tokyo, Japan headquarters--Courtesy of Arthena, CC BY-SA 3.0

Eisai has struggled since falling off the patent cliff in 2010, when its blockbuster Alzheimer's med Aricept lost patent protection and sales took a hit. The company is looking to new meds to add salve to the wound, and a better-than-expected launch for its cancer hopeful Lenvima could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

More patients than were originally targeted are receiving the drug, regarded as the "crown jewel" of Eisai's portfolio, Ivan Cheung, deputy president of the company's global oncology business, told Bloomberg. Eisai plans to roll out its thyroid cancer med in more than 20 countries by next March, treating 2,500 patients around the world if all goes well.

The company has high hopes for Lenvima, which was approved by the FDA in February and by Japanese regulators in April. Eisai thinks the drug can bring in $1 billion by 2020, setting the stage for a showdown with Bayer's cancer-fighter Nexavar. But some analysts put estimates for Lenvima lower, with worldwide sales of the drug hitting $424 million by 2019. For comparison's sake, analysts see sales of Nexavar ringing in at $1.16 billion the same year. New indications for Lenvima in lung, kidney and liver cancer could help Eisai meet its lofty sales goals.

Eisai CEO Haruo Naito

Meanwhile, the company is working hard to cut costs, even as it predicts an operating profit increase for its 2015 fiscal year. Earlier this year, Eisai axed 215 jobs from its U.S. commercial and regional corporate services units and unveiled ¥12 billion in cost-cutting geared toward R&D and SG&A. With a new structure in place, Eisai will become "more efficient and focused," the company said in April.

Success of Lenvima's fellow new meds will also be key, with the company looking to cancer-fighter Halaven, obesity therapy Belviq and seizure med Fycompa to pitch in. Halaven brought in ¥35.3 billion during the company's last fiscal year, a 23% jump over the previous year.

But despite "very proactive, significant" commercial investments, Belviq and Fycompa are still struggling to gain traction, CEO Haruo Naito said earlier this year. Belviq competes in a crowded obesity market with Vivus' ($VVUS) Qsymia and Orexigen ($OREX) and marketing partner Takeda's Contrave. And Fymcompa is dealing with pricing setbacks after Germany's cost watchdogs refused to cover the drug unless it was priced similarly to generics. The news dealt another blow to Eisai, which already faced a yearlong delayed launch for Fycompa in the U.S.

- read the Bloomberg story