Roche’s quest to make its pioneering MS drug Ocrevus into a multibillion-dollar blockbuster has gathered some added steam with an EU marketing approval — 9 months after the big FDA green light came through.
Analysts expect that Ocrevus can rack up $3 billion in peak sales, with the pharma giant rolling up not that far from $1 billion in just the first 9 months in the US. That’s exactly the kind of blockbuster smash that Roche needs now as franchise drugs like Rituxan, Herceptin and Avastin are shredded by generic rivals.
What makes Ocrevus special?
It’s the first drug approved for both primary progressive as well as the relapsing remitting forms of the disease. And Roche aggressively went after market share with a tough strategy that included a lower price than Merck KGaA’s Rebif as well as data demonstrating it can beat Rebif at its own game.
In offering a double-digit discount to Rebif, Roche also spotlighted the big increases in the price of the older MS drugs over time, a key pricing strategy that has sustained many companies through a drought of new drug approvals. Of course, Roche hasn’t been averse to finding new ways to increase revenue from old drugs, as it proved a few years ago when the multinational cut dozens of wholesalers out of the distribution of its big three cancer drugs, eliminating discounts that had once gone to hospitals.
Said Gavin Giovannoni, professor of neurology at Barts:
Until Ocrevus, people with primary progressive MS, who often have to rely on a cane or wheelchair, give up work or have carers look after them, have not had an approved treatment to slow the progression of their disease.
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