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Celgene Corporation (CELG), Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ONXX): Revelations From This Blazing Biotech

Blazing. Sizzling. On fire. They all describe Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) pretty well these days.

With all of the heat generated by this biotech and its stock, it pays to pay attention to what Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) says. The company’s Chief Operating Officer Perry Karsen spoke at the Stifel Nicolaus Weisel Healthcare Conference this week. Here are three of the most significant revelations from Celgene’s conference appearance.

1. Plans for Pomalyst
It didn’t take long for a question to arise about the launch of Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG)’s multiple myeloma drug Pomalyst. The questioner noted that Pomalyst beat Kyprolis, a competing drug from Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ONXX)  in sales for the second quarter. That win came despite Kyprolis entering the market sooner than Pomalyst.

Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG)Karsen adroitly sidestepped making any specific comments about any rivalry and, instead, pointed out that Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) expected to see combinations of therapies given in different sequences to address the medical needs of multiple myeloma. He did note, though, that physicians appear to have a comfort level with prescribing the company’s other immunomodulatory, or IMiD, drugs Revlimid and Thalomid. That familiarity makes it easier for doctors to go with Pomalyst, which is also an IMiD drug.

The revelation about Pomalyst was that Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) doesn’t plan to try to position the drug for earlier-stage treatment of multiple myeloma. It’s currently approved as a third-line treatment when a patient doesn’t respond to Revlimid or Velcade. Karsen said that the drug is “perfect in the setting that it’s been developed” (i.e., as a complementary product for Revlimid), and that’s where the company will focus. This wasn’t really surprising, but it does seem to put to rest for now any questions that Pomalyst could rob market share from Revlimid.

2. Anticipations for apremilast
Many were somewhat disappointed with the phase 3 results from psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis drug apremilast, because those results weren’t as strong as earlier mid-stage results. However, Karsen called the anticipated launch of apremilast a “transformational step” for Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG).

Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG)’s research reflects a great opportunity for apremilast to create a new market between methotrexate and biologics like AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV)‘s Humira. Karsen commented that physicians and patients report a large unmet need. Many patients, who no longer are responsive to methotrexate, or have side effects, aren’t excited about moving to biologics because of either not wanting an injection, or risking of adverse effects.

The key to apremilast’s success probably lies in how much it will cost payers like insurance companies. Humira can cost over $20,000 per year. Karsen indicated that a lot of research is going into how to price apremilast, but that it will be somewhere between the relatively lower cost of methotrexate, and the high-dollar price tag of biologics such as Humira.

3. Down-low on deals
Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) sits on over $4 billion in cash and equivalents. Its stock is trading at an all-time high. Is the company ready to make some deals to acquire other products or companies? Karsen’s revelation: yes — with caveats.

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