Boehringer hopes for new product boost after challenging 2014

Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) has been reflecting on a challenging 2014 as currency-adjusted sales dipped 3.2 per cent to €13.30 billion. But the future looks bright for the German family-owned group with a raft of new products hitting the market.

Sales of prescription medicines made up €10.10 billion of the total (-5.2 per cent), driven again by the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) drug Spiriva (tiotropium), which brought in €3.24 billion, down 8.1 per cent. Explaining the decline at BI’s annual press conference, chairman of the board Andreas Barner said it was due to currency effects and rebates in the US and was not a major concern.

Spiriva starts losing patent protection in 2016 but Prof Barner did not expect a host of generics to challenge its dominant position in the COPD market too quickly. He told pharmaphorum that it was “one of the most complicated medicines we have ever developed” and because of this high complexity, any competitors would have difficulty demonstrating equivalence; “not a biosimilar but a Spiriva-similar” he said.

The blood pressure drug Micardis (telmisartan) fell 17.2 per cent to €1.09 billion, while the anticoagulant Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate) was up 1.6 per cent to just under €1.20 billion. Regarding the latter, Dr Barner said “we would have hoped for more.”

He noted that analyses of daily clinical practice with Pradaxa consistently showed that treatment leads to fewer cases of strokes due to blood clots than with warfarin, less intracranial bleeding and thus fewer deaths.

However BI has faced a battle concerning the extent of the bleeding risks associated with Pradaxa, despite the fact that regulators, scientists and the company itself have consistently backed the drug’s positive benefit-risk profile, when used as directed. Last May, the firm paid $650 million to settle litigation across the Atlantic.

Prof Barner explained, “We decided with a heavy heart to conclude a settlement in the USA, because years spent working through lawsuits would have resulted in very high litigation costs – even if we had won each lawsuit”. He added that the settlement “enabled us to put an end to this legal issue and focus instead on what we are actually here for.”

The company has high hopes for a number of treatments that have been launched in the last few months. These include Striverdi (olodaterol) for COPD, Ofev (nintedanib) for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, plus the type 2 diabetes treatments Jardiance (empagliflozin) and Glyxambi (empagliflozin/linagliptin).

As for pipeline, Prof Barner said it was well-filled, with around 100 projects. He highlighted a pact with fellow German group CureVac, looking at combining BI’s recently-approved lung cancer medicine Giotrif (afatinib), with a therapeutic tumour vaccine developed by the biotech.

He also spoke of a collaboration with US-based Circuit Therapeutics to better understand psychiatric diseases with the aid of optogenetics, controlling the activity of brain cells with light. The “formidable precision of this technology could enable the scientists to develop a new generation of medicines for … forms of depression or schizophrenia that were previously difficult to treat”, Prof Barner claimed.

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