A new lupus treatment developed by Human Genome Sciences Inc. is receiving a lukewarm reception from doctors so far, with demand for the drug shaping up to be much softer than expected, according to a Citi analyst.
Analyst Dr. Yaron Werber lowered his price target on the Rockville, Md., company’s stock to $15 from $26 and also trimmed sales expectations for the drug over the next couple years.
Human Genome Sciences shares closed at $13.41 on Tuesday.
The treatment, Benlysta, is an injectable drug designed to relieve flare-ups and pain caused by lupus, a potentially fatal ailment in which the body attacks its own tissue and organs. Human Genome Sciences spent 15 years developing the drug and is marketing it with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC.
It became the first new drug to treat lupus in more than 50 years when the Food and Drug Administration approved it in March. European Union and Canadian regulators approved the drug in July. Analysts have estimated that sales of the drug could exceed $3 billion within five years.
Werber said in a research note late Tuesday that those who are supposed to promote the drug’s merits to a broader base of rheumatologists are much less enthusiastic about Benlysta than expected.
“While docs are happy that Benlysta is now available, they are clearly looking for better options down the line,” Werber said in the note.
The analyst also noted that Benlysta may face competition in the next few years from other drugs in late-stage clinical development, and those potential treatments have the advantage of learning from Benlysta’s trial-design shortcomings.
Werber also lowered his Benlysta sales estimates for the third quarter and 2011 and 2012.