Third to market may still be a charm for Lilly, BI's new diabetes med Jardiance

Just because a drug is third to market doesn't mean it's not a viable player--especially if it has safety on its side. Just ask Biogen Idec ($BIIB), whose Tecfidera has quickly eclipsed its predecessors to take the multiple sclerosis market by storm. But is that type of launch in the cards for Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Boehringer Ingelheim's diabetes med Jardiance?

The way Medical Marketing & Media sees it, it could be. Approved by the FDA last Friday, the drug trails fellow SGLT-2 inhibitors Invokana from Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Farxiga from AstraZeneca ($AZN). But Jardiance isn't yet plagued by the safety concerns that loom over its SGLT-2 brethren. The FDA has flagged Farxiga over bladder cancer worries, and Invokana does not have a nod for patients with severe liver damage.

Will that be enough for Jardiance to overcome its late arrival? Invokana, the first of the bunch to win a green light in the U.S., hit the market in March 2013, so it has had more than a year to get traction. While neither J&J nor AstraZeneca has disclosed exact sales for the products, both touted successful launches. They even likened their results to Januvia's early experiences on the market. Now, Merck's ($MRK) blockbuster ranks No. 2 on the worldwide diabetes sellers list.

As MM&M notes, a third-to-market victory is a feat that's been accomplished before. Tecfidera was third to show up to the oral MS drug party when it launched in April of last year. But that didn't stop it from rapidly racking up blockbuster sales--not to mention half a billion dollars in the first quarter of 2014--and topping rivals Gilenya from Novartis ($NVS), whose cardiovascular effects the FDA has questioned, and Aubagio from Sanofi ($SNY), which features the agency's black box warning for liver toxicity.

And according to GlobalData analyst Valentina Gburcik, Lilly and BI have already proven themselves successful at marketing "me-too" drugs. Take Tradjenta, for instance, which continues to poach patient share from Januvia despite its third-to-market status.

Of course, Jardiance will have others to compete with down the line as the SGLT-2 class fills out. In March, Evoke Health's VP of science and medical, Brian Whalen, told MM&M that drugmakers had 5 additional inhibitors in various stages of clinical development.

Still, with the closest--belonging to a Merck/Pfizer collaboration--still at least a year away, Jardiance "may be the key product to watch," he said.

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Special Reports: 10 Top-selling Diabetes Drugs - 2012 | The top 10 pharma companies by 2013 revenue - Eli Lilly | Top 15 Drug Launch Superstars - Tecfidera - Biogen Idec