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Lilly’s new eczema drug scores in late-stage studies

Once known primarily for its work in diabetes, Lilly has, for years now, been branching into other areas of drug development like immunology.

There, the company has a blockbuster product in Taltz, an anti-inflammatory agent used to treat psoriasis and multiple kinds of arthritis. Revenue from Taltz totaled almost $1.8 billion in 2020, up 31% from 2019. Lilly’s arsenal also includes a rheumatoid arthritis drug, Olumiant, sales of which are growing in spite of significant safety concerns and considerable market competition. Lilly recorded $402 million in Olumiant revenue between January and June, representing a 41% increase compared to the same period in the year prior.

With lebrikizumab, Lilly hopes to grow further by targeting eczema — a skin condition that, according to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, affects an estimated 30% of the U.S. population.

Lebrikizumab is meant to block a pro-inflammatory protein known as IL-23. Several years ago, the drug was being developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche as an asthma treatment. But mixed clinical data led Roche to sell off rights to a small dermatology company called Dermira. Late-stage trials evaluating the drug in patients with moderate-to-severe eczema began in the fall of 2019, and not long after, Lilly agreed to acquire Dermira for just over $1 billion.

Now, Lilly says it has positive results in hand from two of those trials.

In addition to hitting the main goal of skin clearance, lebrikizumab also appeared to outperform placebo on measures like itch relief and quality of life.

Should Lilly’s drug ultimately come to market, those benefits may be important for competing, given Sanofi and Regeneron have a medicine that works in much the same way as lebrikizumab.

That medicine, Dupixent, was originally approved for eczema patients 2017. It’s since been cleared to treat asthma and a kind of inflammation of the sinuses. Last year, Regeneron recorded just over $4 billion in net product sales from Dupixent.

Still, the market for eczema treatments isn’t as crowded as in other immunological diseases, and Lilly believes there’s room for another addition.

“We understand the needs of people in the [eczema] community worldwide and are aware that many are still in need of new treatment options despite available medicines,” said Lotus Mallbris, vice president of immunology development at Lilly, in a statement.

Lilly shares were up about 1.5% in late morning trading Monday.