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Eisai falls behind on Leqembi patient goal

The Japan-based pharmaceutical firm Eisai had hoped that, by the end of March, 10,000 patients in the U.S. would be taking its closely watched drug for Alzheimer’s disease. But that goal now seems lofty, following updates in the company’s latest earnings report.

Eisai developed the drug, called Leqembi, in partnership with Biogen, and is leading its commercialization. As with an earlier Alzheimer’s therapy from the two companies, Leqembi’s launch started off slow. Yet Eisai and Biogen have argued that recent decisions from drug regulators and insurers should significantly increase both prescriptions and sales.

Still, growth doesn’t appear to be coming as quickly as the companies want. Eisai recorded 1.1 billion yen, or roughly $7.4 million, in revenue from Leqembi between October and December — around half of what Wall Street analysts had generally expected, according to Michael Yee of the investment bank Jefferies.

The company also said Leqembi had been administered to a total of 2,000 U.S. patients as of Jan. 26, with another 8,000 or so on a waiting list. Eisai maintains the 10,000 patient milestone could be hit in a few months, though the team at Jefferies believes it might take longer “given launch dynamics have been slow to begin with.”

In a note to clients, Yee wrote that on a call with investors, Eisai leadership acknowledged the Leqembi launch has been “challenging” and is “taking longer than expected,” echoing sentiments Biogen’s CEO Chris Viehbacher made late last year.

“This was always going to be a gradual launch,” Viehbacher said during an earnings call in November. “Obviously, sales will be expected to ramp at some point. But it has always been a difficult product to forecast because there’s just no real good analogs here.”

In July, Leqembi became the first Alzheimer’s-modifying medicine to receive a full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, a title which has opened the door to broader insurance coverage. Eisai estimates 90% of U.S. patients who are potentially eligible to receive Alzheimer’s treatment can now access Leqembi.

Leqembi may face competition before too long, however, as the FDA should soon decide whether to approve a rival therapy from Eli Lilly.

Eisai said that, by Jan. 26, weekly sales of Leqembi had reached about $1.5 million. Should the trend continue, the drug would be on pace to generate about $20 million from January through March. Yee notes that current consensus among analysts is Leqembi sales will total roughly $365 million for the full year — a figure the Jefferies team argues “needs to come down.”