January 25, 2018 / 12:47 PM / a year ago

Bluebird CAR-T still top Celgene priority after Juno deal

(Reuters) - Celgene Corp (CELG.O) said on Thursday that a pending $9 billion purchase of Juno Therapeutics JUNO.O in no way alters its focus on its partnership with Juno rival bluebird bio (BLUE.O).

Juno and bluebird are both developing CAR-T treatments for different blood cancers. They are positioned to become the next entries of the potentially revolutionary therapy that genetically alters a patient’s immune cells to far more effectively fight cancers.

“Working with bluebird to develop bb2121 remains a top priority,” Celgene Chief Executive Mark Alles said on a conference call.

Celgene expects Juno’s JCAR017 to gain U.S. approval for a type of lymphoma in 2019 and projected eventual annual sales of about $3 billion.

Bluebird’s CAR-T is being developed for relapsed multiple myeloma.

With the potential to launch two CAR-T therapies over the next three years, Alles said Celgene intends to become “a global leader in cellular immumotherapy.”

CAR-T is an expensive one-time treatment seen as having potential to be curative or hold cancer at bay long-term.

Novartis (NOVN.S) and Gilead Sciences (GILD.O) earned the first CAR-T approvals last year with therapies priced at $475,000 and $373,000, respectively.

Celgene said the Juno purchase would not prevent other deals, but that it does not believe there are holes in its developmental pipeline that need plugging.

Celgene also highlighted the $1 billion-plus sales potential of fedratinib in myelofibrosis. It expects to file for U.S. approval in mid-2018 to treat newly diagnosed patients and those who cannot take Incyte Corp’s INCY. Jackafi.

The company said it plans to file for European approval of its experimental multiple sclerosis drug ozanimod in the current quarter and awaits U.S. approval by year end.

Ozanimod is also being tested for Crohn’s disease and in combination with Celgene’s psoriasis drug Otezla for ulcerative colitis.

Celgene reported fourth-quarter adjusted earnings that topped analysts’ estimates by 3 cents a share, as sales of its flagship multiple myeloma drug Revlimid grew 21 percent to $2.19 billion.

Otezla sales rose 22 percent to $371 million.

“Otezla U.S. strength suggests plenty of room for global growth,” said RBC Capital Markets analyst Brian Abrahams.

The company preannounced 2017 results and reiterated its 2018 forecast for revenue of $14.4 billion to $14.8 billion and adjusted earnings of $8.70 to $8.90 per share at a healthcare conference this month.

It posted a net loss for the quarter due to a $1.21 billion charge related to the U.S. tax overhaul.

Celgene shares rose 1.2 percent to $104.36.

Reporting by Bill Berkrot in New York and Akankshita Mukhopadhyay in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina D'Couto and Susan Thomas

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