Think fast: A new cognition study could add $350M to Lundbeck's Brintellix sales

To successfully launch a new drug in a crowded market, what do you need? A way to differentiate your product. Lundbeck may have found just that, in the form of a study showing that its new antidepressant, Brintellix, helped patients think, concentrate and remember.

Though mood problems and physical problems--such as pain--are the most commonly known symptoms of depression, cognitive difficulties often come along. The new study used neuropsychological tests to gauge participants' ability to think quickly, pay attention and make decisions. Patients in the Cymbalta arm saw a statistically significant improvement compared with placebo patients, the study found.

Also, the researchers said, the improvements in cognition appeared to be a direct effect from Brintellix, separate from any easing in depressive symptoms. "We are encouraged that Brintellix not only showed benefits in cognitive function in patients with major depression, based on the neuropsychological tests, but that patients themselves also reported noticeable improvements in their cognitive symptoms," lead author Roger McIntyre of the University of Toronto said in a statement.

Antidepressants are of course proven to address mood-related symptoms, and Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Cymbalta is FDA-approved to help ease several types of chronic pain. The new data showing cognitive benefits gives Brintellix enough of an advantage to add $350 million to 2019 sales, Deutsche Bank analyst Tim Race said in an investor note. 

Lundbeck is also pitting Brintellix against Cymbalta in a trial focusing on the drugs' potential cognitive benefits. Success there could give the Lundbeck drug another big boost, Race said. "Building on this data will be key to achieving not just blockbuster but also multibillion-dollar sales potential for Brintellix that would be transformational to Lundbeck earnings," Race said (as quoted by Bloomberg). He raised his peak sales target to $1.85 billion from $1.5 billion.

That could be big for Lundbeck, which needs a new source of revenue to replace sales lost to generic competition for its blockbuster antidepressant Cipralex, sold by Forest Laboratories in the U.S. as Lexapro. The company itself has predicted $2 billion in peak sales for Brintellix, and it has added a couple of hundred reps to its U.S. sales force to help make that happen. Blockbuster success for Brintellix could go a long way toward making up the Cipralex shortfall; in the meantime, Lundbeck has been cutting costs and laying off workers to retrench.

Up next for Brintellix could be testing in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. As Bloomberg notes, Lundbeck and its partner, Takeda Pharmaceutical, are sufficiently pleased by the drug's effects on attention and decision-making that they may launch ADHD trials next year.

- read the release from Lundbeck
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