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Immunology launches buoy AbbVie sales as COVID-19 swamps ex-Allergan aesthetics biz

Only months into its massive merger with Allergan, AbbVie has been forced to contend with a pandemic challenge to its brand-new aesthetics business. But thanks to new meds that are outperforming expectations, AbbVie is holding steady.

Driven by growing sales for two superstar launches, psoriasis med Skyrizi and rheumatoid arthritis drug Rinvoq, AbbVie offset a COVID-19 downturn for its nascent aesthetics business in the nearly two months following the drugmaker's acquisition of Allergan.

Rinvoq, in particular, is beginning to flex its muscles after a fairly slow start following its October launch, AbbVie executives said on a first-half earnings call with analysts Friday.

The JAK inhibitor had secured 15% of "in-play" market share of rheumatoid arthritis patients as of June, CEO Rick Gonzalez said, and soon could overtake megablockbuster Humira in terms of those sought-after patients. Rinvoq posted $149 million in second-quarter sales—topping Street consensus of $110 million—and could hit $600 million by year's end.

AbbVie isn't just excited about Rinvoq's booming market share in its only approved indication, though. The drugmaker is looking ahead to upcoming regulatory filings in eczema and ankylosing spondylitis—all part of the drugmaker's eventual goal for Rinvoq and Skyrizi to hit a combined $20 billion in sales each year and make up for Humira's inevitable biosimilar erosion.

AbbVie's legacy brands won't need to do much heavy lifting in the long run, though, with the drugmaker's newly acquired aesthetics business expected to make a rapid recovery after COVID-19 lockdowns scattered patients.

Despite a 48.3% drop in sales in the second quarter—a partial quarter, because AbbVie closed its Allergan buy in early May—Gonzalez said patients were already surging back to aesthetics providers in May and June. The business is about 90% operational now and could return to normal within the year, he said.

"I’m extremely pleased with how Botox and the aesthetics returned, and I think it’s a testament to those brands and those patients," Gonzalez said.

Of course, the bad news—as always lately—is declining revenue for the aging Humira, which posted a 17% dip abroad and is only a few years away from catastrophic biosimilar competition in the U.S. The drug posted $4.84 billion in sales in the second quarter, a 0.2% decline as growth stateside offset the overseas slide.

That existential crisis makes the success of Rinvoq and Skyrizi—which hit $330 million in sales on the quarter, also beating Street consensus—all the more important.

Rinvoq is expected to file for a regulatory approval in eczema, a multibillion-dollar market, now that three pivotal phase 3 trials all turned in Rinvoq's favor.

AbbVie President Mike Severino acknowledged to analysts that the drug faces an uphill climb against Sanofi and Regeneron's established atopic dermatitis med Dupixent, particularly with Rinvoq's JAK class warning label. However, AbbVie sees Rinvoq finding its place as a second-line treatment for eczema patients—and could even make a case for previously untreated patients with its strong efficacy and safety data.

"We think there is a real opportunity for a high-efficacy agent in this space," Severino said. "We see no reason why it won't compete in first-line patients."

Meanwhile, as AbbVie waits for Rinvoq to grow, it can still count on booming sales for its blood cancer portfolio. Imbruvica and Venclexta, respectively, posted sales of $1.29 billion and $303 million on the quarter—both strong growth clips.

On the whole, AbbVie's revenues grew 26.3% on the quarter from the same time period last year as Allergan's sales boosted its overall total. Accounting for Allergan's previous sales in the comparison, though, AbbVie saw about a 5.3% year-over-year revenue decline.

Jul 31, 2020


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