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Pfizer Doubles Down on Oncology Ambitions as Cancer Rx Sales Climb 18 Percent in Q1

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NEW YORK – After successfully completing its Seagen acquisition late last year, Pfizer has ambitious plans for its oncology therapeutics franchise, including doubling the number of cancer patients treated with its drugs and increasing the number of blockbuster-status cancer treatments in its portfolio from five to eight, all by 2030. 

"We've invested so much into this business, and we think this is an area [where] we can make a difference in the world," Pfizer CEO and Chairman Albert Bourla said during a conference call to discuss the firm's first quarter financial performance Wednesday. Bourla pointed to Seagen's growth this quarter — something that he said isn't typical of companies that have just recently been acquired — as good news for the future of the combined business. 

Pfizer's optimism surrounding its newly bolstered oncology business comes even as the firm's overall revenues continued their COVID-19-related decline, as expected, during Q1 2024. 

For the three months ended March 31, Pfizer reported $14.88 billion in revenue, a 20 percent drop from $18.49 billion in Q1 2023. Factoring out the negative impact of declining COVID-19 product sales, the drugmaker's revenue grew 11 percent on an operational basis. The company's Q1 revenue beat the Wall Street consensus estimate of $13.07 billion for the quarter. 

Pfizer's oncology business unit brought in $3.55 billion in Q1 2024, an 18 percent increase from around $3.0 billion in the year-ago first quarter. 

During Q1 2024, Seagen, as a new Pfizer subsidiary, contributed $742 million to revenue. Pfizer announced the $43 billion acquisition during the spring of 2023 and formally closed the deal in December 2023. 

"We've had a number of months of planning … to make sure we had a seamless integration," Pfizer Chief Oncology Officer Chris Boshoff said during the call about the acquisition. "We've completed cross-training of our commercial teams, [and] overall, there's great confidence." 

One of the precision cancer drugs Seagen brought to Pfizer is Tukysa (tucatinib), a HER2-targeted antibody-drug conjugate approved for certain patients with metastatic HER2-positive breast and colorectal cancer. During Q1 2024, Tukysa contributed $106 million to Pfizer's product sales. Another Seagen drug, Adcetris (brentuximab vedotin), added $257 million to Pfizer's product revenue in Q1 2024. Adcetris is marketed as a treatment for certain Hodgkin lymphomas, anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, and other CD30-expressing peripheral T-cell lymphomas. 

Sales of Pfizer's blockbuster CDK4/6 inhibitor Ibrance (palbociclib), which the firm markets for hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer, were $1.05 billion during Q1 2024, down 8 percent from $1.14 billion in Q1 2023. 

Sales of Lorbrena (lorlatinib), Pfizer's treatment for ALK-rearranged metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, climbed 46 percent to $164 million from $112 million the same period the year prior. At the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, Pfizer will report a five-year update from the Phase III CROWN clinical trial, which pits frontline Lorbrena against Pfizer's earlier-generation ALK inhibitor Xalkori (crizotinib) in ALK-positive metastatic NSCLC. 

Boshoff called the forthcoming data "unprecedented" and said it will "define the growth of Lorbrena over the next decade." 

Pfizer's BRAF and MEK inhibitor combination, Braftovi and Mektovi (encorafenib/binimetinib), brought in $116 million for the firm in Q1 2024, up 13 percent from $103 million in Q1 2023. The firm markets Braftovi/Mektovi for certain colorectal cancer and melanoma patients whose tumors harbor BRAF V600E mutations. 

Sales of the firm's PARP inhibitor Talzenna (talazoparib) were $23 million during Q1 2024, up from $10 million in Q1 2023. Talzenna is marketed for patients with advanced or metastatic BRCA1/2-mutated, HER2-negative breast cancer and certain patients with homologous recombination repair gene-mutated metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). 

With regard to upcoming data readouts, Pfizer is looking forward to the results of its Phase III BREAKWATER clinical trial, which pits Braftovi and Eli Lilly's EGFR inhibitor Erbitux (cetuximab) with or without chemo against chemo alone in BRAF V600E-mutated advanced colorectal cancer. 

During the call, Pfizer executives also discussed how it is adjusting its business in reaction to the US government's drug pricing-setting efforts for Medicare. Although Pfizer is not one of the big drugmakers suing the government for the Medicare price-setting provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, the firm is shifting some of its priorities to offset the law's impact on its bottom line. For instance, one of Pfizer's main goals by the end of the decade is to achieve a tenfold increase in the proportion of oncology sales it derives from biologics. Under the IRA, biologics can remain on the market for 13 years before being subject to price negotiations, whereas small molecule drugs get only nine years of immunity before they're fair game for negotiations. 

"This is important because it brings the potential to provide a more durable revenue base," Bourla said during the call. Later, he added that although he believes Pfizer is in a better position relative to other drugmakers in that it only had one drug — the blood thinner Eliquis (apixaban) — selected for the first round of price negotiations, he is "very concerned for the industry as a whole" when it comes to the impact of Medicare price-setting. Eliquis, which Pfizer comarkets with Bristol Myers Squibb, brought in $2.04 billion for Pfizer in Q1 2024. 

"There's no negotiation there; they are just cutting prices," Bourla said of the government, echoing what many drugmakers have bemoaned about the provision — that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is using the word "negotiation" to describe what industry players see as one-sided price slashing. 

Pfizer's adjusted net income for Q1 2024 was $4.67 billion, or $.82 per share, compared to $7.04 billion, or $1.23 per share in Q1 2023. On average, analysts were expecting an EPS of $.49 for Q1 2024. 

For the full year 2024, Pfizer is now expecting to report EPS between $2.15 and $2.35. It had previously projected an EPS range of $2.05 and $2.25. The rest of Pfizer's 2024 guidance remains unchanged. The firm expects revenues to fall between $58.5 billion and $61.5 billion for the full year, which includes an expected $3.1 billion in revenues from Seagen.