(Reuters) - Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc cut the top end of its sales forecast for the blockbuster eye drug Eylea, citing slower adoption by patients with a type of diabetes-related swelling of the retina.
Regeneron’s shares fell as much as 6.8 percent after the company also reported a lower-than-expected adjusted quarterly profit.
The injectable drug Eylea has been one of the fastest-growing medicines in the history of biotechnology since it was approved in November 2011 to to treat wet age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.
The narrowing of its forecast was a rare negative signal from Regeneron. The company expects full-year 2014 Eylea sales in the United States in a range of $1.7 billion to $1.74 billion. The upper end of the forecast had been $1.8 billion.
Company executives cited a slower uptake in patients with diabetic macular edema (DME), for which the drug won approval in July, than had been the case for wet AMD.
Unlike wet AMD, which is typically covered by Medicare, DME sufferers are usually younger and their treatment is not necessarily covered by commercial insurers.
“It’s not that we’re discouraged by the performance of the product this year,” Chief Financial Officer Robert Landy said on a post-earnings call. “It is just, in DME, it is going to take a little bit longer.”
There has been little urgency to date among doctors to switch DME patients from existing treatments, as the condition is less of a threat to long-term vision than wet AMD.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Adnan Butt said he expected adoption in patients with DME to take off in 2015.
A head-to-head study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health showed Eylea to be more effective in such patients than Roche Holding AG’s drugs Avastin and Lucentis.
“So the growth driver is there,” said Butt. “Eylea’s not in trouble.”
U.S. sales of Eylea rose 23 percent to $445 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30. Regeneron also recognized $85 million from Eylea sales outside the United States, where the drug is sold by Bayer AG.
Regeneron is developing other medicines with Sanofi SA, including alirocumab, an experimental cholesterol-lowering drug. Early trial data suggests it may halve the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Regeneron and Sanofi are in a race with Amgen Inc to bring this new class of medicine to market.
The companies acquired a special voucher from BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc that could secure alirocumab an expedited six-month U.S. regulatory review. They said they expected to file U.S. and EU regulatory submissions by the end of 2014.
The Tarrytown, New York-based company’s stock was down 6.1 percent at $371.09 around midday on Tuesday on the Nasdaq.
Editing by Savio D'Souza and Robin Paxton