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New York - Pfizer's touted two new drugs aren't selling as fast as the company anticipated, a top executive said Thursday, though the drugmaker expects the pills should still become blockbusters.
Eliquis, a blood thinner, and Xeljanz, a rheumatoid arthritis medicine, were approved late last year and projected to be the backbone of new sales growth at the world's biggest drugmaker. The pills are competing against well-entrenched products, though, and Pfizer hasn't been able to gain as much of the market in the first months of sales as it had hoped.
"The trajectory isn't what we would have liked it to have been," Geno Germano, who heads New York-based Pfizer's specialty drugs and oncology businesses, said of Xeljanz. With Eliquis, he said, two competing pills have made early sales harder. "I think some of the low-hanging fruit has been taken by the entries that came before Eliquis," he said.
Pfizer is counting on the new drugs and cancer treatments and vaccines in development, to return the company to sales growth after losing top product Lipitor to generic competition in November 2011. Chief Executive Officer Ian Read has shed non-drug units to focus on developing new brand-name therapies.
Eliquis may generate $613 million in annual sales for Pfizer by 2016, according to the average of three analysts' estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Xeljanz may have $1.6 billion in sales by then, according to the analysts' estimates.
Eliquis is competing to replace warfarin, a generic pill used to prevent strokes, and with Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa, and Bayer and Johnson & Johnson's Xarelto. While Eliquis is considered to have superior clinical data, its rivals were approved earlier and have had time to establish themselves with doctors and patients.
"I think some of us are a little bit surprised, given the strength of the label, the strength of the field force," said Jami Rubin, an analyst with Goldman Sachs. Germano's comments came today at an investor conference hosted by Goldman. "The trajectory of the launch is a little bit below what some of us had expected," Rubin said.
Pfizer is splitting promotion and sales of Eliquis with New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. A direct-to-consumer ad campaign should begin soon, Germano said, without giving a timeline.
"We think that ultimately, the profile will prevail," Germano said of Eliquis.
Rubin said Xeljanz's first months of sales also were below expectations. "From our perspective, it does look a little bit lower than I would have thought," she said.
Xeljanz is approved for use in rheumatoid arthritis. It competes directly with AbbVie Inc.'s Humira, an injection, and is approved for use after patients fail a first-line therapy, typically methotrexate. Germano said that about half of the patients now taking Xeljanz had failed treatment on methotrexate, and the other half were those who no longer responded to Humira or related medications.
"Everything I see and hear is positive," Germano said. "Changing practice just takes a lot of work."
Some health insurers and drug benefit managers were limiting access to Xeljanz and forcing patients to try multiple other therapies before getting access to the new drug, he said.
"These are issues for all of us. I'm not going to say we don't have those issues. But we don't seem to have a pattern of reimbursement that's different."