It was quiet on the M&A front during day two of the 2021 JPMorgan Healthcare Conference. But even as they were coy about potential deals, leaders of A-list pharma firms stressed that they were “optimistic” and “bullish” about their immediate prospects for growth, regardless of COVID-19’s stubborn endurance.
“I don’t see the level of impact this time around being the same level of impact we’ve seen in previous waves,” Roche CEO Bill Anderson said during his Tuesday morning presentation.
Here are highlights from several of the day’s most anticipated sessions.
GSK remains confident in shingles vaccine amid new competition: GlaxoSmithKline’s planned mid-2022 de-merger, which will separate the company’s pharma arm from its consumer healthcare business, will make it a “landmark” year for the company, CEO Emma Walmsley said.
She added there was no change in “optimism and ambition” for pharma outlooks despite Omicron’s ongoing and unpredictable impact.
During her presentation, Walmsley highlighted several key pipeline achievements. She started with Phase III results on daprodustat, a treatment for anemia linked to chronic kidney disease, noting that the company hopes to submit the drug for regulatory approval in coming months.
But GSK’s COVID-19 monoclonal antibody was nonetheless (and unsurprisingly) in the spotlight. On Tuesday, the company announced that the U.S. government had agreed to buy 600,000 additional doses of the drug – sotrovimab, known by the brand name Xevudy. The additional doses will be distributed in the first quarter of 2022.
Walmsley reported that the drug has shown to be effective against most COVID-19 variants, including Omicron.
“We were thinking about the risk of mutant variants and chose to pursue an approach that targets a highly-conserved part of the spike protein,” she explained. “We were extremely deliberate on the science to identify an antibody that we thought may be more variant-proof, and that’s what’s come to bear.”
Walmsley noted that purchase negotiations with other governments are ongoing as those nations navigate the role of COVID-19 drugs in the fight against the virus.
As for the shingles vaccine market – long dominated by GSK’s Shingrix – Walmsley acknowledged intensifying competition. Earlier this month, Pfizer signed a deal with BioNTech to develop an mRNA shingles vaccine.
Nonetheless, Walmsley expressed supreme confidence in Shingrix, going so far as to state the company’s ambition of doubling its sales over the next five years.
“This is a vaccine with 97% efficacy – and over 90% on the elderly cohort,” she said. “There’s eight years of sustained protection once you’re vaccinated, and a long safety track record.”
Roche sees Alzheimer’s drug gantenerumab as a “game-changer”: The rough launch of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm – and its subsequent price-slashing – isn’t stopping pharma from pursuing treatments for the neurodegenerative disease. Roche’s Alzheimer’s drug, gantenerumab, is expected to be one of 2022’s biggest launches.
“This could be a really exciting medicine for the Alzheimer’s community,” Anderson said.
When asked where the company expects to see the most growth in the future, he responded, without hesitation, “It’ll be gantenerumab.”
“If we have a solid result, then we have a real winner,” he added. “In 27 months, you have titration and plaque removal, and the final phase is maintenance of an amyloid-beta free environment in the central nervous system. What we’re hoping to see is a strong clinical impact – the longer-term chronic therapy that you’re doing what you need to do against Alzheimer’s disease.”
Anderson also pointed to Roche’s anti-TIGIT therapy tiragolumab, which received a Food and Drug Administration breakthrough therapy designation last year, as another expected driver of growth over the next half-decade.
Teva hopes to land new trial in opioid litigation: Teva Pharmaceuticals launched its Tuesday presentation with an update on ongoing opioid litigation, following a New York jury ruling in December that the company contributed to the opioid crisis by creating a public nuisance. The lawsuit argued that Actiq and Fentora, two of Teva’s fentanyl drugs approved for some cancer patients, had been pushed to treat other types of pain.
Since then, Teva has filed for a mistrial. Should that approach prove fruitless, the company will appeal the verdict, CEO Kåre Schultz said.
The company is still working to reach a nationwide settlement agreement “in the best interest of all stakeholders,” Schultz said, ideally in the next year.
Eli Lilly sets sights on dementia, obesity: In December, Eli Lilly announced a collaboration with Regor Therapeutics to pursue treatments for obesity and metabolic disorders.
“Obesity is a natural fit for what we do,” CEO David Ricks said on Tuesday, noting that the condition is one of the “largest unaddressed issues in healthcare.” He added that 110 million Americans would potentially qualify for Lilly’s treatments.
Ricks said that Lilly is also working on a Phase III program for its Alzheimer’s drug donanemab, which aims to attack beta amyloid and slow the progression of the disease. But Ricks referenced the broader goal of dementia care – specifically, developing a care model for dementia patients similar to care models for cancer patients – as a more crucial step for Lilly in the long run.
“We’re still waiting for that moment [in dementia] where great assets collide with great data, but we think we’re set up to do that,” Ricks said.