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Amgen’s Otezla faces a hit from Bristol’s would-be rival, but safety data will tell the full story

November 3, 2020 Eric Sagonowsky

Celgene needed to sell psoriasis blockbuster Otezla to win an OK to merge with Bristol Myers Squibb, which had a potential rival in the pipeline, and Amgen stepped up with $13 billion. Now, that BMS candidate has topped Otezla in a head-to-head study—and Amgen’s quick success with the med could be in jeopardy.

In a phase 3 trial, Bristol’s deucravacitinib, an oral TYK2 inhibitor, bested Otezla at improving psoriasis symptoms, the company said Tuesday. Full details aren’t yet available, but analysts quickly said the new med could knock Otezla off its growth trajectory.

“Given the limited oral options for this indication, we think Bristol’s TYK2 inhibitor could look very competitive to Otezla, and take its share or cap its growth,” Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Alethia Young wrote in a note to clients.  

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Further, “the superiority claim could threaten Otezla’s market leader position for oral agents,” she wrote. 

Amgen closed its Otezla buy last November, and the med quickly became an important growth driver as other medicines in its lineup face generic and biosimilar competition. The ex-Celgene drug generated $1.6 billion during the first 9 months of 2020, and execs have said it’s beating their original expectations despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

RELATED: Bristol Myers’ psoriasis drug beats Amgen rival in phase 3 

But Bristol’s new data “could lead to competition for Otezla starting sometime in 2022,” Young wrote.

On the other hand, Amgen is expecting Otezla to reap sales from new indications and launches in other countries, Young pointed out. And Amgen “is clearly ahead and has a lot of commercial footprint in the immunology area,” she wrote. 

For his part, J.P. Morgan analyst Cory Kasimov wrote to clients that Bristol’s drug was “largely expected” to beat Otezla based on the phase 2 results it posted last year. Safety data could make a difference, though, and the full numbers on efficacy haven’t been released, either, he stressed. 

RELATED: Amgen’s psoriasis pill Otezla thrives amid pandemic against injectable rivals 

For now, it’s “difficult to assess” how the new BMS data will affect Otezla, Kasimov wrote.

Still, deucravacitinib presents a potential risk for Amgen, and Kasimov expects Otezla sales growth to come in “slightly below” the company’s projections, which call for low double-digit percentage growth over 5 years. 

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