Novartis maps out a blockbuster future for INC424

With a solid set of favorable late-stage data from two Phase III trials in its hands, Novartis ($NVS) has mapped out a relatively short path to blockbuster status for the experimental cancer drug INC424, or ruxolitinib. Researchers for the pharma giant reported yesterday that the JAK inhibitor will soon be filed for an approval in the U.S. and Europe.

An official for Novartis--which obtained ex-U.S. rights from Incyte--told Reuters soon after the trial results were announced that the company expects to earn $500 million a year once it is OK'd for myelofibrosis, a rare form of blood cancer. And the revenue could spike to a billion with the addition of other rare cancers, such as polycythemia vera, to the approval list.

INC424 belongs to a drug class that has tremendous market potential. Pfizer has been advancing its JAK inhibitor, tofacitinib, for the blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis market. But Novartis appears more comfortable targeting more narrow commercial opportunities initially and then later expanding their focus as they gather data on patients from several disease groups.

"We believe it can become a very reasonable commercial opportunity," Herve Hoppenot, president of Novartis Oncology, told the news service. And analysts are ready to believe.

"We currently carry $660 million peak sales in our model although the potential of the drug in the Novartis territories could be well in excess of $1 billion as we believe that MF and PV remain substantially under-diagnosed," Helvea analysts noted.

- check out the Reuters story