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With pivot to less-rare diseases, Alexion needs a new sticker-price plan, CEO says

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SAN FRANCISCO—In 2019, Alexion is looking to pivot from an ultrarare-disease company to a rare-disease company—and it knows its pricing strategy has to change.

With its top-selling therapy, Soliris, the company is moving into new diseases that aren’t nearly as rare as its previous targets. The drug recently nabbed an approval in generalized myasthenia gravis and is looking to snag a green light in relapsing neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, CEO Ludwig Hantson said at a presentation at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

And as the company looks forward to potentially taking on diseases such as amytrophic lateral sclerosis and primary progressive multiple sclerosis, “we want to make sure our pricing strategy is aligned,” Hantson said, adding, “we’re talking about multiplying our patient pool by big numbers.”

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Soliris—previously approved for paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) and atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome—has perennially made pharma’s list of most expensive drugs, but that’s not what Hantson, who took the helm in 2017, wants to be known for.

“This is about a story of innovation and volume. It is not going to be a story about price and price increases and so on,” he said.

RELATED: FDA gifts Alexion quick OK for Soliris follow-up Ultomiris

To drive that point home, Alexion recently served up a 10% discount on maintenance doses of Ultomiris, the Soliris follow-up drug that last month snagged an FDA nod in PNH. The discount move helped the company “make sure we’re ready from a global reference pricing perspective,” Hantson said, telling investors, “We want to be ready when one of you comes back with, ‘do you see what’s going on in Washington?’”

Meanwhile, Alexion is also hoping its pricing for Ultomiris will help convince current Soliris patients with PNH to make the switch to the newer drug. It’s set a high target, looking to convert 70% of PNH patients taking by the end of 2020.

Hantson said Alexion can hit that ambitious goal “because we have that very strong value proposition across the board” and “we have an awesome team.”

“That will of course address some of the questions we have on the durability of our Soliris franchise,” he said, adding, “I hope put that question to rest.”

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