J&J plans to file 10 new blockbusters by 2019

For years, the pharma industry has been saying the era of the blockbuster product is over, but Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is clearly not of that mind.

At a strategy meeting with analysts yesterday the company announced its intention to submit more than 10 new molecular entities (NMEs) by 2019, saying each has the potential to exceed $1 billion in revenue.

The confidence in its pipeline was well-placed, J&J said, given a track-record of 14 drug launches since 2009, half of which are on course for blockbuster sales. The company is also predicting 40 line extensions from its existing product range in the next four years.

It seems that predictions of the end of the blockbuster era for pharma were premature, or at least that the sales threshold for that status should be raised.

Citing figures from IMS, J&J noted that the global pharma market nudged $1trillion last year with almost 40 per cent of growth coming from speciality products such as medicines for cancer, autoimmune, respiratory and viral diseases.

The growth areas seem to tally well with J&J’s near-term pipeline, which features ‘breakthrough’ anti-CD38 drug daratumumab for multiple myeloma; interleukin-6 inhibitor sirukumab for rheumatoid arthritis; IL-23-targeting guselkumab for psoriasis; anti-androgen JNJ-927 for pre-metastatic prostate cancer; telomerase inhibitor imetelstat for myelofibrosis and JNJ-493 for urothelial cancer, which targets the fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR).

Other candidates coming through development include esketamine for treatment-resistant depression; AL-8176 for respiratory syncytial virus; fulranumab for osteoarthritic pain; JNJ-872 (VX-787) for influenza A; JNJ-922 for primary insomnia, plus AL-335 for hepatitis C virus (HCV).

J&J has also just boosted its HCV portfolio with a $1.1 billion agreement to license three antivirals from Achillion Pharma, headed by phase II candidate ACH-3102, an NS5A inhibitor. J&J needs new drugs in its HCV arsenal to defend Olysio (simeprevir) as it faces competition from Gilead Sciences and AbbVie.

The company is also facing the threat of biosimilar competition to its ageing arthritis therapy Remicade (infliximab), with a copycat version from Celltrion filed for approval in the US last August, although the FDA asked for more information on the project in February.

A biosimilar is already on sale in Europe and has reportedly claimed market share of up to 50 per cent in countries such as Norway.

Looking to the future, J&J clearly sees the role of the pharma industry as moving beyond the development of therapeutics, and global head of R&D William Hait told investors that the company had set up three R&D units focusing on disease prevention and using patients’ genetic profiles to gauge disease risk.

“The future of health care lies in not only treating disease but also preventing and intercepting diseases before illness occurs,” he said, noting that this strategy would probably include not only medicines but also consumer products and medical devices.

Earlier this year J&J announced the formation of an interception unit that will take this approach in relation to diabetes.

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