Is the sun setting on the era of the HIV blockbuster?

Source EP Vantage
Company Gilead SciencesAbbott LaboratoriesAbbVieBoehringer IngelheimBristol-Myers SquibbGlaxoSmithKlineJohnson & JohnsonMerck & CoPfizerRocheViiV Healthcare 
Tags Analysis, Free Content, Company Strategy, Patent, USA, Phase III, Filing & Registration, Full Approval, Systemic Anti-Infectives, Event - Closed
Date August 13, 2013

Dolutegravir ’s approval by the FDA yesterday puts a punctuation mark on a quarter-century of HIV antiviral development. The Viiv Healthcare  pill now dubbed  Tivicay  is forecast to achieve blockbuster sales in 2017, nipping at the heels of some of the best-selling single-agent and combination products. However, by that time, the market at large will have begun to contract – forecasts show sales of branded HIV antivirals peaking in 2016 at $20.6bn – as older drugs like  Prezista  and  Reyataz  lose market exclusivity (see tables).

While drug developers are still attempting to innovate, much of the activity seems to be centred on new combinations of already marketed compounds – attacking resistance, improving compliance through reduced pill burden, and treating complications are the goals of many of the new agents. There still is broad interest in pushing forward with new products, and companies like Gilead Sciences , Bristol-Myers SquibbAbbVie  and the Viiv joint venture remain active. Yet with life expectancy for HIV patients who begin treatment early now nearing that of non-infected individuals, only a cure may bring new growth.

Biggest HIV antiviral companies 2008-18 
  Annual sales WW ($bn) 
  2008  2010  2012  2014  2016  2018 
Gilead Sciences   4.33  6.34  8.03  9.42  10.45  9.55 
GlaxoSmithKline  (ViiV Healthcare)  2.81  2.53  2.13  2.41  2.70  2.72 
Johnson & Johnson   0.40  1.10  1.90  2.44  2.86  2.41 
Merck & Co   0.64  1.30  1.68  1.81  1.74  1.68 
Bristol-Myers Squibb   1.93  1.80  1.79  1.77  1.58  0.64 
Abbott /AbbVie   1.82  1.60  1.42  1.25  0.67  0.36 
Boehringer Ingelheim   0.43  0.36  0.28  0.21  0.18  0.17 
Roche   0.17  0.09  0.05  0.04  0.03  0.03 
Pfizer   0.15  0.05  0.04  0.04  0.04  0.03 
Total market   12.71  15.29  17.54  19.66  20.58  18.09 

Changing times

The years since the launch of GlaxoSmithKline 's Retrovir  in 1987 have seen leaps in innovation, with multiple nucleoside and non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitors coming to market, improving on the reduction in the risk of death and disease progression shown by that product. HIV “cocktails” that blocked multiple mechanisms of viral reproduction reduced disease burden and the risk of resistance, as well as extending life expectancy.

The middle of the last decade was tough for the early drugs, with Retrovir , Bristol-Myers Squibb ’s Videx  and  Glaxo 's Ziagen  all losing patent protection in the space of a couple of years. The pharma innovation machine continued to produce blockbusters, however –  Johnson & Johnson ’s Prezista  and Bristol-Myers  Squibb ’s Reyataz  premiered, for example.

On the other hand, there was at least one disappointment in Glaxo  and  Pfizer ’s Selzentry , which at $203m in 2012 sales has fallen well short of initial forecasts of $456m (Preview – Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer results looming, January 18, 2008). Indeed, it was the struggles of Selzentry  and the changing shape of the market that drove  Glaxo  and  Pfizer  into each other's arms to form Viiv (Glaxo and Pfizer to join forces on HIV, April 16, 2009).

However, those companies were left in the dust by Gilead Sciences , which focused on developing one-pill combinations. Stribild , its four-drug combination approved in 2012, is a once-daily, four-drug combination. As such, it has been the only company in the space to show impressive growth in the past five years, with 2016 anti-viral sales forecast to hit $10.5bn in 2016, according to EvaluatePharma. As the table above shows, Gilead  is forecast to take half the branded market in 2016, leaving five other companies to fight for the table scraps.

Top 10 HIV antivirals in 2018 and total branded market  
          Annual sales WW ($m) 
  Product  Pharmacology class  Company  Patent expiry  2008  2012  2016  2018 
Stribild   Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, HIV integrase  inhibitor & CYP3A inhibitor  Gilead Sciences   Sep 2021  58  2,543  3,573 
Truvada   Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor  Gilead Sciences   Jan 2021  2,107  3,181  2,663  1,787 
Complera   Nucleoside & non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor  Gilead Sciences   May 2025  342  1,489  1,741 
Isentress   HIV integrase  inhibitor  Merck & Co   Oct 2023  361  1,515  1,641  1,597 
Atripla   Nucleoside & non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor  Gilead Sciences   Sep 2021  1,572  3,574  2,560  1,464 
Prezista   Protease inhibitor   Johnson & Johnson   Aug 2014  334  1,414  1,984  1,369 
Tivicay  (dolutegravir HIV integrase  inhibitor  ViiV Healthcare   864  1,318 
Epzicom/Kivexa   Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor  GlaxoSmithKline   Nov 2016  818  1,053  927  586 
Reyataz   Protease inhibitor   Bristol-Myers Squibb   Jun 2017  1,292  1,521  1,485  577 
10  Intelence   Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor  Johnson & Johnson   Dec 2020  70  349  487  549 
        Other products  6,159  4,536  3,941  3,533 
        Total   12,713  17,544  20,585  18,095 

Come 2016, only four products will be growing, the table above shows: TivicayIntelenceStribild  and  Complera .

It is no wonder, then, that so many of the companies with antiviral expertise have turned to hepatitis C  as a growth space, although even there  Gilead  looks poised to take much of the spoils (Hep C story makes Gilead impervious to bad news, May 3, 2013).

What is to come

The late stage pipeline does not give much cause for hope that HIV will see entry of innovative products soon. Stribild  components  elvitegravir  and  cobicistat  have been knocked back by the FDA as monotherapy because of manufacturing issues, so it may be some time before those two hit the market. Behind that, only two projects in phase III have any forecasts attached to them:  Gilead ’s prodrug version of Viread , called tenofovir  alafenamid fumarate; and a combination of Prestiza with three  Gilead  compounds,  Emtrivacobicistat  and the  Viread  prodrug.

That is not to say there are no innovative approaches. AbbVie  and  Biogen  Idec  both have monoclonal antibodies in phase II, while more speculative gene and cell therapies are being studied. Several companies are also trying vaccines, including  Glaxo .

But given the improvements in pharmaceutical treatments for HIV patients, what is probably necessary to steal serious market share in this space is a vast improvement in efficacy – in short, a cure or something very close to one – or a way to reduce the dosing burden or side effects even more. Given that Gilead  has delivered more than one one-pill, once-daily product, it will be left to competitors to see if they can deliver the cure or less toxicity if they wish to fight back.

To contact the writer of this story email Jonathan Gardner in London at or follow  @JonEPVantage on Twitter

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