UPDATED: Bayer, J&J touting Xarelto trial data to counteract Eliquis surge

For a while now, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Xarelto has had no problem besting its competition, zooming to the lead in the new-age anticoagulant market, despite entering second. Now, though, the notion that rival Eliquis is a superior med is permeating the field, and it's up to the companies to quash that idea if they want to keep their hold on the No. 1 spot.

As Bayer's management acknowledged last week, "the impression that Eliquis is a better drug exists in the marketplace," Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in a note to investors. But the way the German pharma's leaders see it, it's "wrong."

Xarelto trials were done in the most severe patients, Bayer told Gal, which helped Eliquis--a collaboration between Pfizer ($PFE) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY)--come out looking stronger. And to combat the idea that Eliquis works better, Bayer this month kicked off a campaign to educate the market on the trial data differences.

Bristol and Pfizer, for their part, underscored Eliquis' superior efficacy over older treatment warfarin in high-risk patients, noting in a statement that they take their "responsibility to physicians and patients seriously, which includes accurately communicating trial results that can influence clinical practice."

Not too long ago, Bayer and J&J didn't have much to worry about when it came to Eliquis. Despite its rosy trial data, the Pfizer/BMS therapy got off to a sluggish start, well underperforming analysts' early launch expectations.

Now, though, things have turned around for the third-to-market med, with DTC ads and beefed-up sales efforts helping its top-line haul grow to $774 million last year--a far cry from the $146 million it posted the year prior.

And there's new competition in Daiichi Sankyo's Savaysa, too. While that treatment's black box safety warning renders it "not a realistic alternative" to Xarelto, Daiichi could get aggressive with pricing, meaning Xarelto "will have to give some rebates in the U.S.," Gal noted.

Still, Bayer and J&J need not worry too much. More prescriptions are written for Xarelto each week in the U.S. than all of its next-gen competitors combined, a spokesman for J&J's Janssen unit told FiercePharmaMarketing in an emailed statement. Plus, "pricing and access should still continue to be strong," Gal wrote, and the pair's extensive clinical trial program is working to make sure Xarelto keeps the lead in label indications. Both of those will help the drug maintain a hefty piece of the market-share pie, he predicted.

After the management meeting, "we came away less concerned for Xarelto," he wrote. "But it would be nice upside if the competitive message gains traction."

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