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Incyte sees growing opportunity in dermatology

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Opzelura Incyte dermatology Herve Hoppenot

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Incyte’s Opzelura as its first treatment of vitiligo has opened the potential for the Wilmington company to hone in on the dermatological market. | PHOTO COURTESY OF INCYTE

WILMINGTON – When researchers at biopharmaceutical firm Incyte discovered that their blockbuster small-molecule cancer drug could also treat dermatological conditions like vitiligo and eczema, it marked a sea change in the company’s course.

Incyte secured the first U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval for a vitiligo treatment, Opzelura, last summer. Then in November, it doubled down on that bet by reaching a deal to acquire Villaris Therapeutics, a North Carolina-based firm working on a new treatment for vitiligo, in a deal worth up to $1.36 billion.

In April, it received approval in the European Union to use Opzelura in treating vitiligo, opening up a second major market. Incyte expects to begin shipping Opzelura for European vitiligo patients this summer, with Germany being its first market.

Further leaning into its development of new non-cancer drugs, Incyte hired Dr. Pablo Cagnoni for a new role as president and head of research & development, effective June 5. He will lead Incyte’s R&D efforts across its portfolio of programs in oncology, hematology and inflammation and autoimmunity including dermatology.

An oncologist and pharmaceutical executive, Cagnoni has played a key role in the development, approval and/or commercialization of more than 20 medicines. Most recently, he has led three different startup cancer firms. At Incyte, Cagnoni will reunite with CEO Hervé Hoppenot, who worked with him previously at Novartis Oncology.

In the first quarter of 2023, Incyte saw 60,000 new patients use Opzelura, a cream version of its key drug Jakafi. It drove net sales of $57 million in the quarter, a 343% increase over the previous year, and more than 8,200 dermatologists in the U.S. have prescribed the drug now, an increase of more than 125% from a year ago.

According to a survey of 100 prescribing dermatologists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, about a fifth of vitiligo patients are requesting Opzelura by name and 85% of patient requests are filled. That public recognition is driven in part by a direct-to-consumer TV ad campaign featuring a voiceover by actor Morgan Freeman.

“This level of brand awareness and patient activation is substantially higher than almost every other product in dermatology offices. And with our continued efforts, we believe we can reactivate a significant percentage of the diagnosed vitiligo patient population,” Barry Flannelly, executive vice president and general manager of North America for Incyte, told analysts during the company’s first quarter earnings call.

Herve Hoppenot Incyte Wilmington

Incyte CEO Herve Hoppenot said that clinical advancements had led the company to investigate dermatological drugs. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Incyte isn’t stopping with just vitiligo and eczema though, as it has studies underway for a pair of other dermatological conditions with no current topical treatments: prurigo nodularis, a skin disorder that producing itchy, hard bumps, and hidradenitis suppurativa, a skin condition that produces painful lumps under the skin. It’s also targeting FDA approval of Opzelura for eczema in children ages 2 to 11.

Meanwhile, Incyte is discontinuing work on six other targeted treatments, including a failed attempt at using the investigational drug parsaclisib to treat patients with the bone marrow cancer myelofibrosis who didn’t respond to Jakafi alone.

Hoppenot told analysts that “it is clear that we have been moving resources into inflammation and dermatology,” as well as oral drugs to treat skin conditions.

“We are not moving away from oncology, but we are certainly consolidating our portfolio in immunology. And I think it’s an important move for Incyte over the past few years to sort of become now a company that has two different franchises that are fueling the growth; and the dermatology/immunology, and oncology are coexisting,” he added.

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