July 21, 2015 / 8:51 AM / 4 years ago

Novartis bullish on Afinitor cancer drug despite new competition

July 21 (Reuters) - Novartis remains bullish about prospects for its blockbuster cancer drug Afinitor, which achieved sales of $1.58 billion last year, despite competitors lining up to challenge its market position.

Afinitor suffered a double blow on Monday when Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immunotherapy drug Opdivo and Exelixis’s Cometriq both proved better than Afinitor in clinical trials of patients with kidney cancer.

The threat from Opdivo is particularly significant because the medicine belongs to a new class of immuno-oncology drugs that many doctors believe will change the way cancer is treated.

The success of Opdivo could, therefore, push back the use of Afinitor as doctors try the newer option, reducing sales of the Novartis product.

“If Opdivo is approved in renal cell cancer, it will probably delay use of Afinitor in that particular indication,” Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez told reporters in a results call on Tuesday. “But because this is a multi-indication drug we still are bullish on Afinitor’s growth prospects.”

Kidney, or renal, cancer accounts for about a quarter of Afinitor sales, while breast cancer makes up about 50 percent. The breast cancer market is also facing increased competition from new products such as Pfizer’s Ibrance.

For now, Afinitor is continuing to grow strongly, with sales in the second quarter rising 19 percent in constant currency terms to $423 million, making it an important plank of Novartis’s big cancer drug portfolio.

Consensus forecasts point to sales peaking at $2.06 billion in 2018, according to Thomson Reuters Cortellis. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Goodman)

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