Detailed data on both Novartis's canakinumab and Merck's anacetrapib
will be presented on Aug. 27 and 29 at the annual meeting of the
European Society of Cardiology (ESC), conference organizers said on
So far, the rival companies have only said their drugs met the main
goals in two large clinical trials, leaving cardiologists and
financial analysts anxious to see the scale of the benefit and the
nature of any side effects.
That will be crucial in determining commercial demand for
premium-priced medicines to prevent heart attacks, at a time when
healthcare providers have proved reluctant to pay for other pricey
new heart treatments.
Novartis' canakinumab, which is already approved as Ilaris for rare
autoimmune conditions, targets inflammation that can aggravate the
risks posed by clogged arteries, while Merck's anacetrapib raises
HDL, the so-called good cholesterol.
In both cases, many doctors and analysts had been expecting the
trials to fail, given disappointments with similar experimental
drugs in the past. The double dose of success now opens up the
possibility of multibillion-dollar sales.
That would be a major boost for both companies, since previous
annual sales estimates for the two products by 2022 were only around
$500 million apiece, according to consensus estimates compiled by
The two drugmakers are not out of the woods yet, however.
In the case of canakinumab, U.S. heart expert Milton Packer, of the
Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, said the fact that
Novartis' trial ran six years without being stopped early for
superior efficacy suggested its effect might be modest.
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He predicted, in a blog post, that canakinumab would likely show a
15-20 percent reduction in the risk of a major cardiovascular event,
such as heart attack or stroke, without decreasing cardiovascular
death by itself. http://bit.ly/2tsudPz
Merck, meanwhile, has already indicated caution about the commercial
profile of anacetrapib by saying it has not yet decided whether to
file the product for regulatory approval.
Steven Nissen, chief of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, believes
that suggests the treatment effect may have been relatively small.
In contrast to expensive new cancer drugs, which have seen rapid
uptake, innovative heart medicines have been a much tougher sell in
recent years, as shown by slow demand for new injectable
cholesterol-lowering drugs from Amgen and Sanofi.
Finding the right value proposition may be a particular challenge
for Novartis, since canakinumab is a costly antibody medicine.
(Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)
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