Boehringer to Stay Out of Immunotherapy Race
Ingelheim: Even as innovative pharma companies speed up their race to bring the immunotherapy cancer drugs to the market, one of their own Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) says it will stay out from this space, as the company decides to narrow down its focus to metabolic diseases and biosimilar drugs. Immunotherapy is a new breakthrough in cancer treatment that uses body’s immune system to fight the disease.
One of the most famous patients of a recently introduced immunotherapy drug is former US President Jimmy Carter who was treated with its drug Keytruda from Merck & Co.
“The PD-1 area is nothing we are going to get into because this has been covered by others. We have something in development, we are pretty late. Unless we see something real differentiating advantage of our medication, we don’t think we will be very successful,” said Andres Barner, Chairman of the Board of Managing Directors, BI, in an interview to ET at the compa- ny’s annual press conference in Germany last week.
“But we are working with CureVac for a tumour vaccination and I think there we can really provide value to the oncology area,” Barner added, as he leaves the company in June this year after spending close to two decades, overseeing some of the biggest drug launches that the firm has seen. He will be replaced by Hubertus Von Baumbach, great grandson of Albert Boehringer, one of the founders of the company.
The German drug maker’s decision to step out from the immunotherapy drugs is part of an overall strategic vision to focus on key therapy areas and exit non-core areas. Last year, it decided to sell its generic business Roxane to Jordanian firm Hikma Pharma for $2.5 billion. It also started discussions with French drug maker Sanofi to buy its animal health business in exchange for the consumer health business. These decisions have led the company’s increased revenues of 14.8 billion, a growth of 4.5%, taking into account the currency adjustments. On the R&D, BI, which invested 20% of its net sales in research, will soon start the trial for its anti-diabetic drug Jardiance for treating heart failure.
Barner says these strategic changes are what will be the highlight of his career. He is particularly proud of Pradaxa, an anticoagulant drug (blood clot prevention), which it launched during his tenure.
“My positive memories are more of the ability to launch therapeutic areas and to add value to patients. So, there is very clear strategy direction. We know what to do like selling Roxane (a generic company), working together with Hikma, cooperating with AbbVie and having these swaps. I think, overall, it’s a good situation. Last year, the company grew and it continues to grow,” Barner explained.
As BI struggles to grow in its home market, its focus has shifted towards building its partnerships in biosimilar drugs and putting up a billion-dollar facility in China, which is one the biggest markets for the company. It may launch the biosimilar version of rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira which comes off patent in 2017. (This reporter was in Ingelheim on an
invitation by Boehringer Ingelheim)