Bluebird’s gene therapy hits another delay, this time in the US – BioPharma Dive

Dive Brief:

Bluebird's commercial operations are just getting off the ground. In its latest earnings report, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech detailed how it has inked agreements with health insurers in Germany that should provide coverage for LentiGlobin, which is sold under the brand name Zyntegloin Europe, for up to 50% of eligible beta-thalassemia patients. Bluebird expects the first commercial patient to be treated before July.

Across the Atlantic, U.S. patients are looking at a longer timeline before LentiGlobin becomes available. Stifel analysts wrote in a note to clients that they don't foresee any stateside patients receiving the therapy commercially in 2020 "given what we anticipate will be a complicated negotiation process with payors."

Analysts at Raymond James, meanwhile, downgraded Bluebird to a "Market Perform" rating, writing that "execution issues on the regulatory, clinical and manufacturing side outweigh our support for the innovative drug products."

As Bluebird works through the latest delay in beta-thalassemia,it will also be preparing for an expanded research program in sickle cell. The company already intended to kick off a late-stage study in sickle cell patients with a history of vaso-occlusive crises in the first half of 2020. With Tuesday's earnings presentation, though, came plans to initiate a second late-stage study sometime this year, which will evaluate LentiGlobin's effects in about 18 children with sickle cell and elevated stroke risk.

A sickle cell approval, though a ways off, could boost Bluebird's bottom line. Beta-thalassemiais rarer in U.S. than other parts of the world, and certainly less common than sickle cell. According to estimates cited by the National Organization of Rare Disorders, roughly 3,300 U.S. patients have beta-thalassemiaversus the 100,000 who have sickle cell.

An expanded program could provide more evidence of LentiGlobin's benefit in this larger patient pool.Yet the updates don't seem to have alleviated investor concerns. Bluebird shares were down nearly 10% in late Wednesday morning, trading around $80 apiece.

"LentiGlobin in Sickle Cell Disease remains a bright spot, in our view, but with [late-stage studies] expected to get underway this year, we don't expect investor sentiment to change anytime soon," Stifel analysts wrote.

The investment bank models Zyntelgo bringing in $12 million worth of revenue in 2020 from the beta-thalassemia indication, increasing to $53 million in 2021 and $390 million by 2030. Conversely, it models $48 million in 2022 from the sickle cell indication, increasing to almost $2 billion by 2030.

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Bluebird's gene therapy hits another delay, this time in the US - BioPharma Dive

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