by Jeff Inglis
SUNNYVALE, Calif.–Building quickly on the November 2013 approval of its first drug to market, Pharmacyclics has already achieved accelerated approval for that drug, Imbruvica (ibrutinib), in a second disease, with future plans for additional diseases.
The first approval came, under Breakthrough Therapy Designation, in mantle-cell lymphoma (MCL) for patients with one prior treatment; that was followed in February by approval for patients with one prior treatment in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which the company's chief medical officer, Jesse McGreivy, described as "a slow-growing blood cancer of the white blood cells" that is "the most common form of leukemia in the Western world."
Company- and third-party-sponsored clinical trials continue in several other leukemias. In February, Imbruvica, which targets Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK), a part of the B-cell receptor signal system, was added to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network's Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology for relapsed/refractory MCL and relapsed/refractory CLL, as well as Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia (which currently has no drug treatment).
Reuters reported in February that RBC Capital Markets analyst Michael Yee predicted Imbruvica's eventual annual global sales could reach $5 billion. McGreivy said there are 16,000 patients diagnosed with CLL every year in the U.S., and that more than 40,000 of the current 115,000 CLL patients have had a first therapy.
The potential market strength for the drug is further suggested by the fact that in December 2011 Janssen Pharmaceuticals, owned by Johnson & Johnson, agreed to pay 60 percent of drug-development costs and milestone payments, for a total of up to $975 million, in exchange for half of the drug's profits.
Janssen is pursuing regulatory approval in more than 50 countries, Pharmacyclics CEO Robert Duggan said in a conference call announcing the CLL approval. Janssen is also helping significantly with sales, Paula Boultbee, Pharmacyclics's executive vice president of sales and marketing, said in that call. She said the MCL approval kicked off a "strong launch" that was bolstered by several programs to ensure affordability of the drug—including a 30-day free supply for patients whose insurance companies take longer than five days to decide about coverage, and help limiting monthly out-of-pocket expenses for Imbruvica to $25 for qualifying patients. The average age of CLL patients is 72, according to company documents.
Imbruvica posted net product revenue of $13.6 million in the six weeks between its November 2013 approval and the close of the fourth quarter, according to Pharmacyclics's most recent financial briefing.
The company's net revenue for 2013 was $260.2 million, up 58 percent from $164.7 million in 2012. The remainder of the 2013 revenue was from the Janssen funding agreement, under which the recent CLL approval triggers a $60 million milestone payment.
A Leerink Partners analysis suggested that for the first quarter of 2014, Imbruvica sales could reach $50 million.
The rapid approvals for Imbruvica were supported by BioClinica, a Pennsylvania-based vendor of information-technology tools supporting clinical trials, including patient randomization, data collection and validation, and online analysis.
BioClinica works with the world's biggest pharmaceutical manufacturers and tiny ones too, and touts its experience. "We as a vendor have worked on more clinical trials than most pharmaceutical companies," Peter Benton, executive vice president and president of the eClinical Solutions division at BioClinica, tells DDNews.
Its systems allow efficient management of the enormous quantities of information generated by trials ("I've been in the industry long enough to remember tractor-trailer… lined up waiting to deliver boxes and boxes of information on paper," Benton said), and help vet and clean the data so it is ready for rapid processing by the FDA.
The company continues to expand by merger and acquisition to fill "white space between our current products," Benton said. And in mid-March, BioClinica did it again, merging with CCBR-SYNARC. Both companies are owned primarily by the equity firms Water Street Healthcare Partners, and JLL Partners, and their combined services will support the entire drug-development spectrum, a merger-announcement statement said. The merged companies' chairman will be Jeffrey McMullen, a longtime industry executive who in 2012 serves as chairman of the Association of Clinical Research Organizations.