Drug Development

#ESMO18: Cardio dreams blighted, Novartis showcases its “blockbuster” ambitions for radiopharmaceuticals

Vas Narasimhan

Novartis downplayed the painful news yesterday that the FDA had spurned its application for canakinumab as a cardio drug, imperiling its latest blockbuster ambitions for a heart drug. 

Execs would much prefer to talk about Lutathera, their radioisotope cancer drug which is already on the market and was showcased in an early presentation at ESMO in Munich Friday.

The drug — lutetium Lu 177 dotatate — is a small molecule that delivers a radioactive element to kill cancer cells. In a new analysis of NETTER-1 trial data for the drug, approved for neuroendocrine tumors, researchers spotlighted highly significant progression-free survival results for patients taking the drug, regardless of liver tumor burden.

That’s another positive for a drug that Novartis bought in their $3.9 billion acquisition of Advanced Accelerator Applications, which Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan boasted to investors Thursday was enjoying “explosive growth.” 

“It’s off to a strong start in the US,” the CEO told analysts, showing off the latest set of numbers to analysts. “You can see here number of doses per quarter, and this trend is really I think very encouraging. And we’re now starting to roll out the medicine in Europe. In the U.S., we have 85 centers that are actively prescribing. We have 70% coverage of the relevant lives. And in the UK now, we have 18 centers actively prescribing. And I think, seeing the strength of the performance in Lutathera, feeling now that it’s a potential blockbuster medicine.

The CEO’s bullishness explains why Novartis just snapped up little Endocyte for $2.1 billion, paying a significant premium for another radioisotope therapy that the biotech had in-licensed for only $12 million up front.

You can expect to hear a lot more about the platform and the commercial prospects. Novartis occupies a big place among the pharma giants of the world, which are judged by their late-stage development pipelines rather than the quality of their scientific bench.

Image: ESMO, John Carroll Endpoints News

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