Celgene trims 2017 forecast despite Revlimid surge


Despite otherwise impressive growth in its flagship product Revlimid, Celgene has revised its revenue and profit forecasts for 2017, citing concerns about currency movements.

The company, which has built its business on drugs for blood cancers, has been one of the fastest-growing mid-size pharma companies in recent years. While its flagship drug remains on track, worries about a strong dollar have led it to revise forecasts for next year.

The company has today released its Q1 results, showing net product growth of 21% compared to the same time last year, producing revenues of $2.51 billion. Multiple myeloma blockbuster Revlimid rose 17% to 1.57 billion for the period.

It says this increase was driven by newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patients, as well as increased duration.

The Summit, New Jersey-based firm has now increased its forecast sales for Revlimid this year from $7 billion to $8 billion.

Celgene has adjusted its overall revenue forecast for 2016 and 2017 downwards, however, and now says total sales in 2017 will be in the range of $12.7 billion to $13 billion, down from $13 billion to $14 billion.

In line with this, it has adjusted its earnings per share down to $6.75 - $7.00, versus the previous target of $7.25.

The only clearly disappointing performer in the portfolio was another cancer treatment, Abraxane, which saw a big drop off in sales in the US (down 10%) and Europe (-26%), which the company attributed to growing competition in breast and lung cancer treatment from new entrants.

The company and its newly appointed chief executive Mark Alles are sticking with their long-term forecast, and say they are still on track to achieve $21 billion in sales by 2020.

While Revlimid will be safe from US generic competition until 2026, the field of haemato-oncology is changing at an extraordinary pace, with many new treatments for a range of blood cancers reaching the market, and many more in the pipeline.

The most exciting and potentially 'disruptive' to current treatment standards are the CAR-T therapies, T Cell Receptor (TCR) technologies and other novel immunotherapy treatments.

Celgene has responded by investing heavily in the field, and has been particularly active in early 2016.

In February, Celgene exercised its option to exclusively license bb2121, bluebird bio's therapy targeting B cell maturation antigen (BCMA). Celgene will take on worldwide development and commercialisation of bb2121 after the phase I trial is completed.

Then just a few weeks ago, it extended an already existing partnership with Juno Therapeutics, one of the pioneers in the CAR-T space. The new $1 billion deal is the biggest ever upfront payment in a biotech licensing agreement, demonstrating both the promise of the field, and Celgene's urgent need to carve out a presence in the field.

Juno is developing a number of novel candidates to a variety of B-cell malignancies as well as solid tumours. These have so far shown the greatest promise against refractory leukaemia and lymphoma, but CAR-Ts are also being studied in multiple myeloma.

Celgene will take on marketing rights for certain Juno products outside North America and China, while the firms will share global expenses to develop new treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Andrew McConaghie

28 April, 2016