Event – Esperion faces acid test

The lipid-lowering market is not what it once was. The advent of generic statins and the rising influence of cost-conscious payers have made it hard for new therapies like the PCSK9 inhibitors to crack the market – especially when armed with data only incrementally better than the standard of care.

Esperion believes that in bempedoic acid it has found a cheap and convenient therapy that could fit between statins and PCSK9s in the treatment continuum. But first it has to prove that the project’s efficacy lives up to expectations. All should soon become clear with pivotal trials starting to yield data in March (see tables below).

Product Bempedoic acid +/- ezetimibe
Company Esperion Therapeutics
Product NPV $1.2bn
% market cap 58%
Event  Five phase III trial readouts
Date March 2018 onwards

Five phase III studies will report this year, and Esperion will want results to be good enough not just for approval, but also to allow it finally to hook a partner. The group has made no bones about the fact it will need help to launch bempedoic acid, with its chief executive, Tim Mayleben, previously telling EP Vantage that any collaborator would have to have a broad commercial infrastructure and geographic footprint.

Cardiovascular companies fitting this bill make up a select group – at the JP Morgan healthcare meeting in January Mr Mayleben said there were “more than five but less than 10” suitable partners, adding that Esperion had had discussions with them all.

Awaiting outcomes?

He brushed off the idea that would-be collaborators might be awaiting data from bempedoic acid’s cardiovascular outcomes trial, which are not due until 2022. But, in a climate in which a 15% reduction in cardiovascular events was unable to move the needle for Amgen’s Repatha, this is a distinct possibility.

Still, as a small molecule, bempedoic acid should be cheaper and more convenient than Repatha. If Esperion can replicate phase II results suggesting that LDL lowering with a combination of bempedoic acid, ezetimibe and statin therapy was on a par with that seen with the PCSK9s, perhaps the likes of Amgen and Regeneron should start to worry (Positive triplet data spurs Esperion deal-making chatter, August 9, 2017).

Esperion is not giving specific details about bempedoic acid’s price tag, but Mr Mayleben has told EP Vantage that this would be in line with that of pre-generic era statins, which had a list price of $8-10 per day. This would make bempedoic acid significantly cheaper than PCSK9s, which cost around $13,400 per year before discounts.

Interestingly, the company plans to set the same price for the bempedoic acid monotherapy and its fixed-dose combination with ezetimibe, with the chief exec saying the difference in the costs of goods was indistinguishable.

He has stated that both of Esperion’s projects could find a niche, and that they would be used in patients who still have elevated LDL cholesterol despite being on statins and/or ezetimibe; Stifel analysts estimate that this market comprises around 30% of patients on cholesterol therapy, or 13 million people in the US alone.

Among this population, single-agent bempedoic acid might be prescribed to the two thirds of patients who are less than 25% away from their LDL target, and the combo – which so far looks more effective – in more severely affected patients.

Mr Mayleben has also stated that there will still be a place for the PCSK9 inhibitors, but that these will be reserved “for patients who have severe cardiovascular disease, are on a maximum tolerated dose of a statin and need truly dramatic LDL cholesterol lowering”.

Bempedoic acid first has to prove its worth in the five upcoming phase III trials, the first of which, study 4, will read out in March, followed by the much larger “anchor trial”, study 1, in May.

Upcoming bempedoic acid pivotal trial readouts
Trial Details N Primary endpoint Trial ID Data due
Study 4 (1002-048) Efficacy in statin-intolerant patients, bempedoic acid + ezetimibe 269 Change in LDL-C at 12 weeks NCT03001076 Mar 2018
Study 1 (1002-040) Long-term safety in patients on maximally tolerated statins, single-agent bempedoic acid 2,230 Adverse events at one year NCT02666664 May 2018
Study 3 (1002-046) Efficacy in statin-intolerant patients, single-agent bempedoic acid  345 Change in LDL-C at 12 weeks NCT02988115 May 2018
1002FDC-053 "Bridging" study of bempedoic acid/ezetimibe combo pill 350 Change in LDL-C at 12 weeks NCT03337308 Aug 2018
Study 2 (1002-047) Efficacy in patients on maximally tolerated statins, single-agent bempedoic acid 779 Change in LDL-C at 12 weeks NCT02991118 Sep 2018
Clear Outcomes Cardiovascular outcomes study, single-agent bempedoic acid 12,600 Composite of CV adverse events NCT02993406 2022

Esperion, which closed a $152m fund raising in August on the back of its phase II combo data, has $274m in cash, which it reckons should fund it well into 2020. If all goes to plan bempedoic acid and the fixed-dose combo should be approved by then.

But to make a real success of its projects the company needs a partner with clout. It had better hope that the phase III data convince.

To contact the writer of this story email Madeleine Armstrong in London at madeleinea@epvantage.com or follow @ByMadeleineA on Twitter

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