InterMune drug may offer big upside to Roche if aimed at liver

Wed Aug 27, 2014 5:58pm EDT
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By Ransdell Pierson and Bill Berkrot

(Reuters) - Roche Holding AG's planned $8 billion purchase of InterMune Inc is centered around hopes for blockbuster sales of its lung drug, but the smaller company's development pipeline may end up giving the Swiss drugmaker a far bigger bang for its buck.

Industry analysts have forecast annual sales of about $2 billion for the pulmonary fibrosis treatment, pirfenidone, once it gains U.S. approval, giving Roche a valuable addition to its respiratory franchise.

But the company is expected next year to begin clinical trials of ten-fold more potent next-generation drugs that could also treat similar damage to the liver and kidneys as well as lungs.

Success there could be a game-changer, given the unmet medical need to treat liver and kidney scarring that can be caused by factors such as obesity, diabetes and alcohol and drug abuse.

"Liver fibrosis is a huge, multibillion-dollar market that's far bigger than the lung fibrosis market," said Katherine Xu, an analyst with William Blair & Co. "It involves millions of patients in the United States, versus 100,000."

Pirfenidone, a pill with annual sales of about $150 million in Europe and Canada, treats a progressive scarring condition of the lungs called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis that typically kills patients within a few years.

Roche announced its proposed $8.3 billion cash purchase of InterMune on Sunday.

The two companies have barely mentioned the liver potential of the newer formulations as they focus on unlocking the value of pirfenidone by winning U.S. approval of the drug for lung fibrosis. The Food and Drug Administration awarded the medicine its "breakthrough" designation - a signal the agency sees it as a potentially important new therapy.   Continued...

File photo of the logo of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche outside their headquarters in Basel January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/Files