Spherix Global Insights

February 22, 2023

Introduction of AstraZeneca’s Saphnelo (anifrolumab) has Expanded the Use of Biologic Agents in the Treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Resulting in Gains for GSK’s Benlysta (belimumab) as Well, According to Spherix Global Insights

Latest Saphnelo launch tracking data from Spherix showcases rheumatologists’ shifting perception on the drug’s steroid-sparing capabilities yet highlights access barriers hindering use.

EXTON, Pa., February 22, 2023 – Rheumatologists have long struggled to effectively treat patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) given the wide heterogeneity of the disease and few effective treatment options.

However, after nearly a decade of stagnant innovation for the treatment of SLE and lupus nephritis (LN), physicians now have three (3) approved agents:

  • GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta (belimumab) in SLE and now LN
  • Aurinia’s Lupkynis (voclosporin) in LN
  • AstraZeneca’s Saphnelo (anifrolumab) in SLE

At 18 months post approval, monthly tracking by Spherix in the Launch Dynamix series reveals that rheumatologists’ familiarity with Saphnelo in SLE continues to grow. While share for Saphnelo among patients with moderate-to-severe SLE remains modest, the introduction of a new agent seems to have propelled the overall use of biologics. Between October 2021 and January 2023, biologic share – consisting of Benlysta, Saphnelo, and off-label rituximab – moved from 16% to 26% according to self-reported use by rheumatologists. Future projections suggest that in the next six months, Saphnelo has the potential to more than double share while Benlysta will continue to trend up modestly as well.

Promotional messaging for both Benylsta and Saphnelo centers around steroid reduction. It is notable that physicians estimate that over half of patients on steroids at Saphnelo initiation have been able to lower their daily steroid dose since starting the drug – a substantial increase from the prior wave of research, accompanied by improved perceptions on the metric relative to Benylsta.
Interviewed rheumatologists expanded:

  • “I always tell my students, ‘We have to do whatever it takes to get the patients off steroids.’ I see a better steroid-sparing with the use of Saphnelo than I do with Benlysta.”

  • “The purpose of prescribing Saphnelo is to wean down steroids.”

  • “In general, I do see better steroid-sparing with the use of Saphnelo than with Benlysta and a much faster reduction of steroids. I can get people off steroids within two months. With Benlysta, it’s going to take me a lot longer – sometimes three to six months.”

While Saphnelo may be pulling ahead of Benlysta somewhat on its perceived steroid-sparing ability, according to the most recent launch tracking data, the drug’s biggest advantage over Benlysta is its perceived quick onset of effect, while Benlysta continues to own “safety” and is very much the go-to biologic for SLE, commanding a much larger userbase and patient share in SLE, not to mention an LN indication and a subcutaneous dosing option in addition to IV.

Rheumatologists noted:

  • “We are trying to select more patients to go on Saphnelo instead of Benlysta especially if they have arthritis or skin disease…of course, if they have nephritis then I will prescribe Benlysta.”

  • “I think the onset of action is what is appealing to us. I think the downside is that it’s not available subcutaneously.”

Rheumatologists’ most cited barriers to Saphnelo use include reimbursement hassles, insurance denials, and out-of-pocket costs –highlighting the impact of access issues on uptake. In fact, physician’s estimate that one-in-five moderate-to-severe SLE patients are deemed clinically appropriate but not treated with Saphnelo due to insurance coverage and co-pay issues:

Given the high unmet need for new pharmacological options in SLE noted by physicians, there is ample opportunity for agents in the very robust SLE pipeline including Gazyva (obinutuzumab, Roche), dapirolizumab pegol (UCB and Biogen), deucravacitinib (Bristol Myers Squibb), brepocitinib (Pfizer), and Litifilimab (BIIB059, Biogen).

Launch Dynamix™ is an independent service providing monthly benchmarking of newly launched products for the first eighteen months of commercial availability, augmented by a quarterly deep dive into promotional activity, barriers to uptake, and patient types gravitating to the launch brand.

For more information on Spherix’s Lupus reports: https://www.spherixglobalinsights.com/rheumatology/lupus/

About Spherix Global Insights

Spherix Global Insights is a leading provider of market research, business intelligence and advisory services to the global life sciences industry. The company’s unique service offerings are powered by deep therapeutic knowledge, the Spherix Network specialty physician panel, and commercially relevant analyses to enable strategic decision-making by our valued customers.

A trusted advisor and industry thought leader, Spherix Global Insights provides specialized market expertise in six (6) focused therapeutic areas including: dermatology, gastroenterology, nephrology, neurology, rheumatology and ophthalmology.

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Spherix Global Insights Contacts:

Ryan Rex, Rheumatology Insights Director
[email protected]

Scott Upham, Corporate Communications

[email protected]

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