There’s a new competition brewing in the $10 billion market for drugs to treat deadly lung diseases as the growing number of smokers in emerging markets drives demand.
Novartis AG (NOVN) aims to convince doctors that its new Ultibro medicine for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is better than GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK)’s blockbuster Advair, which is also used to treat asthma. Glaxo, meanwhile, has developed new products in anticipation of the day that Advair faces competition from generic copies.
Advair was Glaxo’s best-selling drug last year, with 5.05 billion pounds ($8 billion) in sales, split about evenly between asthma and COPD. Source: GlaxoSmithKline/Via Bloomberg
The illness, also known as smokers’ cough, kills a person every 10 seconds and will become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030, according to the World Health Organization and Brentford, U.K.-based Glaxo. Conditions known as chronic bronchitis and emphysema are both included in the COPD diagnosis. While asthma affects more people globally, it doesn’t kill on the scale of COPD, according to the WHO.
“The disease is massively out there,” said Richard Russell, a COPD specialist at Wexham Park Hospital in southeast England who says he sees six or seven new patients every week. “We’re still getting new patients all the time with advanced disease who have never received treatment.”
While the proportion of smokers among the global population has been steadily falling, the number of COPD cases will continue to rise because of the delayed appearance of symptoms and growing numbers of smokers in emerging markets, especially China, drug makers say. Though pollution exacerbates COPD, smoking is the main driver.
The market for COPD medicines may rise to $14 billion in 2018 from $10 billion this year, Citigroup Inc. analysts estimate. Including asthma, the respiratory market will total more than $30 billion, according to Bloomberg Industries.
COPD is characterized by breathlessness, excess saliva and mucus in the airways and a chronic cough. About 65 million people globally have moderate to severe COPD, according to the WHO. Current rates of smoking in China suggest a future patient population of at least 75 million, Bloomberg Industries estimated.
“COPD is a global epidemic and a growing problem in both the developed world and in emerging markets,” said David Morris, Novartis’s global head of primary care development, including respiratory disease. “We see this as a sustained investment.”
The European Union’s drug regulator on July 26 recommended that the European Commission approve Ultibro for COPD. The commission usually follows the regulator’s advice. Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis has said it plans to file for approval in the U.S. at the end of next year.
Advair, marketed as Seretide in most countries outside the U.S., was Glaxo’s best-selling druglast year, with 5.05 billion pounds ($8 billion) in sales, split about evenly between asthma and COPD. It’s been on the market for more than a decade and was the world’s third-best-selling medicine last year behind AbbVie Inc. (ABBV)’s Humira and Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade, which both treat arthritis.
Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH’s Spiriva, the biggest-selling drug for COPD, had sales of 3.6 billion euros ($4.7 billion) last year. Patients typically take Advair or Spiriva or both. AstraZeneca Plc (AZN)’s Symbicort had $3.2 billion of sales last year.