What's the best big pharma stock on the market right now? The prize has to go to AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV). The stock soared 54% last year and is up more than 20% so far in 2018.
Everything seems to be going AbbVie's way lately, which makes it really easy for the company's executives when they field questions at major conferences. That was the case for AbbVie CFO Bill Chase and Vice President of Scientific Affairs Scott Brun at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference on Thursday. Here are five must-see quotes from AbbVie's executives.
1. You're "not going to see anything catastrophic" with Humira
Without question, the most important factor driving AbbVie stock higher last year was the removal of uncertainty about the fate of Humira. The autoimmune disease drug has been at risk of competition from biosimilars, with potential rivals challenging AbbVie's remaining patents for Humira. That put the company in a precarious position, since Humira generates 65% of AbbVie's total revenue.
But a deal with Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) in 2017 went a long way to calm fears about Humira's future. AbbVie CFO Bill Chase said that the Amgen agreement and positive decisions by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have helped the market "come to the conclusion that this product [Humira] is durable." He added that you're "not going to see anything catastrophic" happen with Humira sales.
Under the terms of its agreement with AbbVie, Amgen won't be able to market its biosimilar to Humira until early 2023. However, the big biotech will launch its biosimilar in Europe in the fourth quarter of this year. Chase said AbbVie expects around a 15% to 20% decline in European sales for Humira over the next couple of years.
2. "Hep C has been a crazy ride"
When asked about AbbVie's hepatitis C virus (HCV) franchise, Chase responded that "hep C has been a crazy ride for all of us." AbbVie launched HCV drug Viekira in 2016. However, Viekira faced strong competition from Gilead Sciences' (NASDAQ:GILD) HCV products. In addition, the number of patient starts for HCV drugs was plunging due to so many patients being cured by Gilead's first HCV drugs, Sovaldi and Harvoni.
But AbbVie launched Mavyret last year and priced the drug attractively. Even Gilead now acknowledges that the HCV market has boiled down to a head-to-head battle between it and AbbVie. Chase seemed to agree with that assessment, stating that "the market is defined." He said AbbVie expects the opportunities for Mavyret to "develop positively."
3. The pipeline has "almost an embarrassment of riches"
Last year, market research firm EvaluatePharma ranked AbbVie's pipeline No. 3 in the entire biopharmaceutical industry. Chase thinks very highly of AbbVie's pipeline as well, saying that it has "almost an embarrassment of riches."
He noted that AbbVie expects seven new product or major new indication launches over the next 18 months. One of these launches that should be imminent is for elagolix in managing endometriosis with associated pain. Chase stated that "even in a worst-case scenario, [elagolix] is clearly a $1 billion plus asset."
In addition to elagolix, Chase and Brun highlighted a couple of other key pipeline candidates. Cancer drug Rova-T, gained with the acquisition of Stemcentrx in 2016, is a very promising late-stage cancer drug. Upadacitinib is in late-stage studies targeting treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
4. "Don't expect anything major" when it comes to deals
Will AbbVie make more acquisitions in 2018? Perhaps, but Chase said not to "expect anything major." He added, "Running out and buying something of size doesn't make sense."
The reality is that AbbVie's current product lineup, featuring Humira, Imbruvica, Mavyret, and Venclexta, along with its deep and diverse pipeline, puts the company in a position where it doesn't need to add much right now. Chase stated that any business development activities would focus on earlier-stage assets. Brun noted that's "exactly what we've been doing," citing a recent licensing deal with Voyager Therapeutics as an example.
5. "We have a growth story that will be the envy of the industry"
Chase claimed that with the combination of Humira and a strong pipeline, AbbVie has "a growth story that will be the envy of the industry." Was he right? I think so.
The deal with Amgen provided assurance that Humira will keep chugging along. New potential blockbusters like Mavyret and elagolix will fuel growth. And Chase's statements about AbbVie's pipeline aren't exaggerations. It's really that good. AbbVie is the best big pharma stock on the market right now -- and I don't see that status changing anytime soon.