COPENHAGEN, April 10 (Reuters) - Genmab plans to own a bigger share of drugs in its early-stage pipeline as Europe's biggest biotechnology company prepares to reduce its reliance on a blockbuster cancer drug, marketed by partner Johnson & Johnson.
Genmab has morphed from a cash-burning operation into a profitable business especially due to the success of blood cancer drug Darzalex, on which it is paid a royalty of 12 to 20 percent on sales of the drug.
"We have the ambition to keep at least 50 percent of the ownership of all the coming drugs on our own hands and maybe we can take it to the finish line," said chief executive officer Jan van de Winkel, speaking to reporters before the group's annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday.
This year is expected to be Genmab's sixth year of profitability, meaning it can now afford "to hold on to a larger part of the economics," de Winkel said.
The company would still seek partnerships outside its U.S. main market in for example China and Japan, chairman Mats Pettersson said.
Genmab's strategy is to use its growing royalty stream from Darzalex to invest in its next wave of medicines like cervical cancer drug tisotumab vedotin, which is being developed in a 50/50 partnership with Seattle Genetics.
This could potentially be the first drug which Genmab owns 50 percent of that reaches the market.
De Winkel said Genmab is in the process of setting up a commercial team but did not specify how many people it would need to hire.
Darzalex, however, has not yet reached its peak potential as the drug moves into earlier stages of the disease and is being tested on solid tumours like lung cancer.
"The markets are gigantic, it depends in which solid tumours it works. We are now testing it in more than 15 solid cancers," de Winkel said, adding that this could open up new markets worth several billion dollars.
An important trigger this year will be the outcome of a study where Darzalex is being tested as first-line treatment in combination with Celgene Corp's Revlimid.
"That is going to cause turbo acceleration of the income, because that is 56 percent of the market in the biggest territory and that will have a massive impact on sales from 2019," de Winkel said, adding that a U.S. approval could come early next year.
Genmab expects sales of Darzalex in the range of $2-2.3 billion in 2018.
Reporting by Stine Jacobsen. Editing by Jane Merriman