The lupus nephritis category is engaged in a very first brand battle: two new drugs in the category with very different profiles and marketing strategies.
Benlysta from GlaxoSmithKline, the proven and already approved drug to treat systemic lupus, got its indication for lupus nephritis in December, while the new Aurinia got its first-ever drug approval with the FDA approval of Lupkynis one month later.
GSK’s marketing builds on Benlysta’s established lupus awareness and education, adding lupus nephritis to its digital communications and sales representatives’ portfolio of indications to bring to physicians already on their routes. Meanwhile, Aurinia began her pro-targeted awareness campaign, “Time Is Nephrons,” in October and spent her pandemic months preparing reps and creating marketing materials so that it could kick off as soon as it was approved.
So what do doctors think so far? This is what analysts at Spherix Global Insights sought to find out, following Perception new drugs through its launch assessment system using physician data and interviews.
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It turns out that there is an emerging dichotomy between the types of doctors who commonly see patients with lupus nephritis. Among nephrologists, the preferred candidate is Lupkynis, while rheumatologists more often say their patients are better suited for Benlysta.
Tucker Hurtado, head of Spherix’s nephrology franchise, said Benlysta’s safety and familiarity resonated with rheumatologists. On the other hand, nephrologists, who often see patients with more advanced kidney disease, are looking for new and potentially stronger solutions and turning to Lupkynis, she said.
Doctors also analyze opinions of drugs based on patients’ disease progression. Benlysta is considered best for mild and moderate cases, while Lupkynis is used more often for moderate to severe cases and to treat more aggressive progression, Spherix said.
While GSK and Benlysta started out with an already solid notoriety among doctors, Aurinia is making some inroads. In the Spherix survey, more than half of the doctors polled said they had seen a representative for Lupkynis. Asked specifically about the launch of Lupkyis, a quarter of medics said Aurinia did a good job, Hurtado said.
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Lupus nephritis options now focus on Benlysta and Lupkynis, but a new round of lupus drugs is potentially on the way, including drugs approved for other uses such as Roche Genentech’s Gazyva in cancer and Janssen’s Tremfya and Cosentyx from Novartis for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Other new lupus drugs being tested include Bristol Myers Squibb’s TYK2 inhibitor, deucravacitinib, and AstraZeneca’s anifrolumab monoclonal antibody.
“It will be a hot market in a few years,” Hurtado said.
Studying how Benlysta and Lupkynis are addressing unmet market needs could give products in the pipeline a snapshot of what’s to come and where they might fit. For example, rheumatologists have recognized that comfort with high safety profiles could give the already established Tremfya and Cosentyx an advantage.
List prices are also likely to play a role. Rheumatologists are used to the more expensive new generation drugs and are working to help patients pay for them, but nephrologists are less exposed to them, Hurtado said.
“With all the new nephrology products now, it’s no longer an isolated market,” she said. “The price is definitely something everyone should pay attention to.”