Novartis revs up Cosentyx launch as it braces for a psoriasis pricing war

Novartis' Cosentyx may be the first next-gen psoriasis treatment to hit the U.S. market, but it certainly won't be the last--and the Swiss drugmaker knows it. So while competitors usher their own prospects down the regulatory pathway, the company is girding for the price war it envisions in its future.

Novartis Pharma Chief David Epstein

Novartis ($NVS) will price the new treatment "largely on par" with Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Stelara--a blockbuster Cosentyx topped in a head-to-head trial last year, pharma chief David Epstein told investors on the company's Q4 conference call Tuesday. Stelara costs $7,661 per injection for patients weighing less than 220 pounds, J&J told Bloomberg, with a 6-dose treatment course for the initial year of therapy ringing in at $45,966.

The Cosentyx pricing move "is meant to accelerate that market access of that brand," Epstein said--something Novartis wants to do before competition heats up. Eli Lilly ($LLY) is planning to submit its rival IL-17 inhibitor for approval in the first half of this year, while partners Amgen ($AMGN) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) expect to file their contender this year, too. As the industry has seen over the past few months, payers can play new treatments off one another to score discounts--the way Express Scripts ($ESRX), CVS ($CVS) and others have done with new-age hep C-fighters from Gilead ($GILD) and AbbVie ($ABBV).

"When Amgen launches and Lilly launches, assuming they do, that will give payers more leverage to negotiate price discounts, and I think that's exactly what's going to happen," Epstein told Bloomberg. "Hopefully in the time between now and then we will have established a physician community and a patient community that likes our product. We will then fight with them for market share, even if there's pricing pressure."

With the clock ticking on its first-to-market advantage, Novartis is already drumming up anticipation for the drug, which should be available in the U.S. within the next 5 to 12 weeks, a company spokeswoman told FiercePharmaMarketing. As Epstein said on the call, it's putting "full spending" behind the launch "so that we get peak sales in future years for the company"--a haul analysts peg at $1.06 billion by 2019, Bloomberg notes.

But Novartis is looking further into the drug's future, too--specifically at its potential in psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Novartis figures that if Cosentyx can be the first IL-17 drug to score the trifecta of indications, it'll have an open shot at a combined market that rings in at $10 billion and growing.

"Cosentyx has the opportunity to become a multiblockbuster therapy," Epstein said.

- read the call transcript from Seeking Alpha
- get more from Bloomberg

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