The City by the Bay enjoyed a respite from the January rains on Monday, the first day of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

On day two, not so much. Downtown was inundated by a torrential downpour that felt every bit the “atmospheric river” the weather gurus billed it as.

But the JPM-goers’ sense of humor was on full display. “Dueling umbrellas!” one man joked as we both popped ours out at the same time. Those trooping the soggy streets nodded to one another, linked by the recognition that, thanks to the wind-driven deluge, even the largest of umbrellas can’t keep one from showing up damp to their next meeting.

Many CEOs must similarly take the next few years in stride. Their revenues are threatened by an unprecedented number of headwinds, from a $200 billion patent cliff and a new drug pricing law, to macroeconomic forces like high inflation and interest rates that dampen the appetite for M&A.

Over the conference’s first two days, several CEOs detailed their companies’ plans for riding out the economic storm battering the U.S. economy and finding alternatives to pandemic-related revenue. 

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s chief commercial officer Chris Boerner set the tone of the conference, touting a “younger and more diversified” drug lineup that BMS hopes will wean it off inline products, like cancer drug Revlimid and blood thinner Eliquis, both of which are either off-patent or set to lose exclusivity soon. 

BMS has launched nine new products since late 2019, including three first-in-class medicines last year across cardiovascular, immunology and oncology. The firm’s portfolio is balanced across areas, modalities and payer types, qualities which should lessen the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), he noted. The IRA empowers Medicare to negotiate prices on drugs.

“We see this making us a much more resilient company,” Boerner said, “especially as we think about navigating the increasingly complex external environment.” 

For Swiss drugmaker Novartis, meanwhile, one of the keys to weathering the next decade is developing high-end medicines. Its so-called “advanced technology platforms” – a category of complex drugs which generally commands higher prices – include gene therapies Zolgensma and Luxturna, cell therapy Kymriah, as well as RLTs Lutathera and Pluvicto and xRNA Leqvio

These medicines now account for 27% of sales. Moving forward, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said during a Monday presentation, he hopes to increase their contribution to more than 50%. Moreover, the company is spinning off generics maker Sandoz to become a pure-play “innovative medicines” company, one of a group of drugmakers which generally trade at higher valuations. 

Other biopharma firms are still benefiting from the tailwinds built up over the last two years. Pfizer was easily the biggest beneficiary from the pandemic thanks to the $56 billion in combined 2022 revenues from its COVID-19 shot and antiviral Paxlovid. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said these two drugs will remain very much a part of its story. 

“Even though their revenues will go down, both of them will remain the largest products for Pfizer in the long run,” he noted late on the first day of JPM. 

After 2025, however, the company is facing a sizable patent cliff, which analysts estimate at $18 billion and Pfizer forecasts at $17 billion, threatening to wipe out growth. The drugmaker’s plan after 2025, thus, involves launching 19 new products and new indications of existing drugs over the span of a year-and-half.

Considering that ambitious goal, those next 18 months, Bourla said, are “the most important 18 months in the history of Pfizer.”

Regeneron, which early on in the pandemic developed a monoclonal antibody cocktail to address a treatment paradigm for COVID, is pivoting to what CEO Len Schleifer called “the jackpot antibody.”

In response to the original antibodies losing their efficacy, the company has developed a new one. The drug, dubbed REGN-14287, “has demonstrated potency against all known SARS variants and lineages to date,” reported Regeneron chief scientific officer George Yancopoulos, adding that the biotech expects the drug to enter clinical development later this year.

The theme of renewal, meanwhile, continued into Tuesday’s sessions. 

El Lilly’s CFO Anat Ashkenazi noted that the company is exiting the COVID antibody business. Its pandemic drug bebtelovimab was pulled by the Food and Drug Administration in November due to its inability to defuse then-circulating Omicron subvariants BQ. 1 and BQ. 1.1

The Indianapolis drugmaker launched two new drugs last year, Mounjaro for Type 2 diabetes and Olumiant for alopecia, and has four more on tap for this year, ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer, and atopic dermatitis to ulcerative colitis. 

Moreover, the company hopes to secure approval for an obesity indication for tirzepatide, the active ingredient in Mounjaro. Further upstream, it’s developing two other obesity drugs, one of which is an oral GLP-1. The other, known as triple-G, is an agonist of GIP, GLP-1 and glucagon receptors, and could be helpful for those who didn’t achieve their BMI goal on tirzepatide, Ashkenazi said.