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Novartis posts eye drug data amid play for Eylea’s turf

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The Basel-based drugmaker hopes this latest analysis lends RTH258 additional muscle when matched head-to-head with Eylea

Novartis’s bid to move in on Bayer’s and Regeneron’s eye-drug turf was buoyed by data showing patients on the Swiss drugmaker’s new RTH258 drug showed less disease activity than those on its rivals’ drug Eylea.

Active disease was observed in 23.5 per cent of RTH258 patients versus 33.5 percent of Eylea patients at 16 weeks, Novartis said, of its investigational treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), where abnormal, leaky blood vessels can cause blindness.

A second, similar study found active disease in 21.9 per cent of RTH258 patients versus 31.4 per cent of those on Eylea for the condition affecting 20-25 million people worldwide.

Novartis in June touted initial data showing its drug may require fewer injections directly into the eye than Eylea, while matching it on vision and safety measures.

The Basel-based drugmaker hopes this latest analysis lends RTH258 additional muscle when matched head-to-head with Eylea as well as Lucentis, which Roche sells in the United States.

“When you take all of that together … we believe we have a very compelling proposition,” Vas Narasimhan, Chief Drug Developer, Novartis who will become CEO in 2018, said on a conference call.

Novartis, which released the data at the American Academy of Opthalmology conference in New Orleans, predicts RTH258 annual sales will top $1 billion and aims to file for US approval in late 2018.

Making it a success is by no means clear sailing.

For one, Novartis owns Lucentis rights in Europe where it has contractual obligations to continue marketing that drug. Analysts say cannibalisation from RTH258 will be a challenge.

Competition abounds, too: Eylea, with $5 billion in annual sales, has made inroads against the $3.2 billion-per-year Lucentis, whose 2020 US patent expiration will expose it to cheaper copies.

Moreover, Roche’s cancer drug Avastin is effective in off-label AMD use and has won favour because it costs a fraction of Lucentis and Eylea. In Britain, Novartis and Bayer are fighting doctor groups aiming to switch to Avastin.

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