Bardoxolone - 15 top blockbuster contenders

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The drug: Bardoxolone
The disease: Chronic kidney disease
The developers: Reata and Abbott Pharma
Peak projections: Several billion-plus

When Richard Gonzalez took center stage a few days ago to talk up the late-stage drug prospects at the Abbott pharma spinoff he will helm, the chief zeroed in first on bardoxolone. Developed by Reata Pharmaceuticals in Irving, TX, and licensed in a deal loaded with $450 million in immediate and near-term payments, Abbott has high hopes for this late-stage treatment for chronic kidney diseases.

This treatment "has the potential to dramatically change the treatment landscape," he told analysts. "Current therapies only modestly slow the progression of the disease, while bardoxolone has the potential to markedly improve patient outcomes. We expect commercialization for bardoxolone as early as 2014." He cited the drug's blockbuster potential as cause for optimism about Abbott's newly spun off future.

Reata CEO Warren Huff might think of that as damning with faint praise. In 2009, when the biotech was angling for a partner, he estimated potential sales at $5 billion to 10 billion. But analysts have had a hard time coming up with Abbott's potential earnings from its pact. After all, clinical uncertainty has always been a trademark of the industry.

Huff felt confident enough at one point to plot an NDA on Phase IIb data. Abbott helped steer the drug into a full-fledged Phase III. Researchers are recruiting 1,600 patients with advanced kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes, hoping to prove that they can demonstrate that bardoxolone will extend the amount of time they can live without being forced onto dialysis.

Interestingly, on Friday, Gonzalez indicated that he was in talks with Reata about striking up a co-promotional deal for the U.S. market, which could add significantly to its $1 billion-plus revenue projection.

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