New approvals, DTC put Novartis' Cosentyx on track to impress in 2016, pharma chief predicts

Industry watchers already have high expectations for Novartis' ($NVS) Cosentyx. But the company's execs think the drug--armed with two new approvals in quickly expanding markets--is on pace to exceed them in 2016.

Novartis' David Epstein

The Swiss pharma giant has already seen "very dynamic uptake" of the psoriasis-fighter, company pharma chief David Epstein told investors on the drugmaker's Q4 conference call last week. And with nods for ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis now under its belt in the U.S., Europe and Japan, the med "seems to be on track to do better than what most people are expecting for 2016," he said.

As Epstein outlined for investors, the markets for those indications are "growing rapidly"; in the U.S. alone, Cosentyx's three approved uses are running about $13 billion, he noted, growing "in excess of 20%." And less than 20% of patients eligible for biologic treatment are currently on one, meaning "the opportunity for market expansion as more and more players come into this field is really quite good."

That's good news for Novartis, whose med has a raft of Big Pharma competitors gearing up to join it in the marketplace. The FDA recently accepted Valeant's ($VRX) application for brodalumab, a candidate it licensed from AstraZeneca ($AZN). Eli Lilly ($MRK), Merck ($MRK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) are working on their own competitors, too.

And in Europe, the uptake is going even better for the drugmaker, which is already holding a 12% piece of the pie in its biologic segment, according to Epstein. Forty percent of its patients are new to biologics, meaning they're getting Cosentyx therapy much earlier in the course of their disease--unlike in the U.S., where "patients often have to fail two, three or even four previous biologic therapies before they get access to a medicine like Cosentyx," he said.

That's not to say the med doesn't have anything going for it in the U.S. access department. The vast majority of psoriasis patients there are commercial pay patients, Epstein pointed out, meaning they haven't been facing Medicare access hurdles that have tied up fellow Novartis newcomer Entresto, a heart failure therapy.

But to "fully drive uptake" in the U.S., it's clear that DTC advertising needs to be in the mix, Epstein told investors. On that front, the drugmaker rolled out TV spots a couple of weeks back, and it's optimistic that they "will play well with this patient base and further grow the brand."

- read the call transcript

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