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Regeneron buoyed by blindness drug as it pushes new product launches

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s dominance in the age-related blindness market was maintained in the second quarter, balancing launch efforts and an uptake lag for newer drugs.

Eylea brought in $919 million, an 11% bump driven completely by volume and new indications, President and CEO Leonard Schleifer said, adding that no price increases have been taken on the drug since its 2011 launch.

Management had previously expressed confidence that the blindness treatment would defend its position even as Novartis AG develops a rival dubbed RTH258, which was recently shown to be as effective as Eylea. Novartis already has a contender on the market, Lucentis, that saw sequential sales decline this quarter. There were multiple factors that could have contributed to Lucentis' sales decline, Regeneron CFO Robert Landry said, including any discounts that Novartis could be providing.

Launch efforts for three newer drugs ate up $122 million in the quarter. Eczema treatment Dupixent, cholesterol drug Praluent and the company's newest product, rheumatoid arthritis medicine Kevzara, were all developed in partnership with Sanofi, which owns a stake in Regeneron.

After much fanfare over Dupixent's competitive price and the negotiations Regeneron and Sanofi undertook with payers, the product's second-quarter sales fell below some expectations. Sanofi announced during its Aug. 1 earnings report that revenue from the drug was €26 million. Leerink and Cowen analysts covering Sanofi said in notes that that was well-below consensus forecasts of €50 million, though Leerink's Seamus Fernandez said he had projected €28 million, making it a roughly €2 million miss.

There were no material sales for the drug outside of the U.S., Landry said, but the company is preparing for its Europe launch after a recent nod from regulators.

Sanofi's earnings had also prepared Regeneron observers for slow Praluent sales. The cholesterol drug made $46 million worldwide in the quarter as uptake continued to disappoint, Regeneron's Executive Vice President of Commercial Robert Terifay said.

The companies have struggled to persuade payers to cover the roughly $14,000-a-year drug, but are optimistic for 2018; CVS Health Corp.'s pharmacy benefit manager announced earlier in the week that it would provide co-preferred access to Praluent on its commercial formularies, which cover about 25 million people, Regeneron's Terifay noted on the call.

The Regeneron-Sanofi antibody agreement that produced Dupixent, Praluent and Kevzara will end at the close of this year, though the two companies will continue to develop and commercialize these three in partnership, Regeneron management said.

They did not give an explanation for the end of the agreement. CFRA analyst Jeffrey Loo called the announcement surprising in an Aug. 3 note, adding that the pact gave Regeneron over $1 billion in research and development funding. Loo kept his "hold" position on Regeneron shares.

Landry said that other partnerships between the two companies — an antibody licensing collaboration and agreements on immuno-oncology discovery, development and licensing will not be affected by the end of the other agreement. The two companies are developing a PD-1 cancer therapy known as REGN2810 together.