Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
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Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
Pharmaguy curates and provides insights into selected drug industry news and issues.
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HexaBlockbusters! Sales of Each of the 9 Best-Selling Prescription Drugs in 2016 Topped $6 Billion.

One primary reason behind the continued increase of prescription drug costs is the greater number of specialty drugs that have been introduced by biopharmaceutical companies. These specialty drugs are used to treat complex or rare chronic conditions. Many of them are biologics, which are drugs derived from living cells.

The flip side of the rising costs of prescription drugs is that some drugmakers are making a lot of money. Here are the nine best-selling prescription drugs of 2016, all of which generated sales of more than $6 billion.

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As Blockbuster Drugs Near Lifecycle End, #Pharma TV Ad Spending Rises

As Blockbuster Drugs Near Lifecycle End, #Pharma TV Ad Spending Rises | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

The list of top pharma TV spenders for April featured blockbusters and cliffhangers. The top three spenders Lyrica, Humira and Latuda, in fact, have been major blockbusters for their manufacturers, but are also facing sooner-rather-than-later patent expirations.


No. 1 Pfizer’s pain and seizure drug Lyrica spent almost $26 million for the month, easily doubling its ad spend from the previous month and unseating AbbVie's Humira from its top-spender position, according to real time TV tracker


Pfizer's top seller, Lyrica has been in the news as it tries to fight off generics by defending its pain-indication patent. Pfizer lost that battle in the U.K., where generics have since made their debut, but in the U.S., a patent decision blocks generics until 2018. The Lyrica TV spot that garnered the most spending was Coach, a new creative execution about a female softball coach focused on fibromyalgia pain.


Up next on the April TV spender list was Humira, which until now has held the top spot every month in 2016. The AbbVie anti-inflammatory brand split $24 million on TV ads among its three indications for arthritis, Crohn’s disease and colitis, and psoriasis, according to iSpot’s data. Humira’s main patent expires this year; but AbbVie remains confident that it won't face biosimilars in the immediate future. The company sees Humira sales – which make up more than half of its revenue – increasing through 2018, with only small decreases in the following two years.


The No. 3 spender, Sunovion’s anti-psychotic Latuda, also faces a patent expiration this year, and it dropped more than $17 million on TV ads in April. A new ad launched last month continues its ongoing story of bipolar depression sufferer Amy, but told through the perspective of her husband Scott.


Three diabetes drugs also made April’s top 10 – AstraZeneca’s Farxiga, Novo Nordisk’s Victoza and Sanofi’s Toujeo – as competition remains fierce in that disease.


Overall spending rebounded among the top 10, totaling $138.6 million in April for a 30% increase over the $108 million spent in March.

Pharma Guy's insight:

For a more in-depth analysis, read "TV DTC Advertising Is Not Dead Yet!"; 

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Bollywood May Be a Better Model Than Hollywood For #Pharma to Follow for Blockbusters

Bollywood May Be a Better Model Than Hollywood For #Pharma to Follow for Blockbusters | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

For the past several years, the pharmaceutical industry has been relying on a model that sometimes resembles Hollywood studios. Rather than use their resources to build every medicine from scratch, the biggest drug makers increasingly look outside their own labs to buy a company or license a compound and then use their financial, regulatory and marketing muscle in hopes of creating a hit.

So how is that working out?

A new analysis says not so well, at least for most companies. With few exceptions, most drug makers did not end up using their capital efficiently to make acquisitions between 2004 and 2014, according to the analysis by the McKinsey consulting firm. Similarly, few drug makers succeeded in forging licensing deals that generated blockbuster products. Put another way: most drug makers had low hit rates.

“Overall, it seems few companies excel at sourcing innovation externally,” the consultantswrote in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery.

How was success measured?

Pharma Guy's insight:

Several years ago, I read an article in The Scientist that suggested the "answer to stagnating R&D can be found in the creativity of the movie industry" (see "Why Pharma Must Go Hollywood").

Interestingly, I wrote about the analogy between pharmaceutical marketing and sales and how Hollywood back in August, 2005 (see "Movies and Drugs: Same Blockbuster Mentality"). My thoughts were based on an article in the New Yorker critical of the Hollywood blockbuster model. My premise was that if it isn't working very well for Hollywood, it won't work very well for the pharmaceutical industry.

It turns out that maybe the way Bollywood -- as the movie industry centered in Mumbai (aka Bombay) India is referred to -- does business may be a better model for the pharmaceutical industry to follow, even R&D-wise. For more on that, go here: 

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Should #Pharma Think Like Tom Cruise? Same Blockbuster Mentality

Should #Pharma Think Like Tom Cruise? Same Blockbuster Mentality | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

You are probably aware of certain connections between Hollywood and Raritan (the nexus of Pharma's heartland); i.e., between the movie industry and the drug industry.

For example: Brand name drugs are often mentioned in movies such as Viagra in "Somethings Gotta Give." Actor celebrities like Lorraine Bracco (Tony Soprano's psychiatrist in the HBO series "The Sopranos") are often used in drug ads as spokepersons -- a practice I think needs to be curtailed (see "Pfizer DTC Pledge: ED is Litmus Test"). And some actors abuse or put down prescription drugs -- think Tom Cruise.

But maybe the most important connection -- analogy actually -- between these two industries is the blockbuster marketing and sales model that both the Hollywood movies industry and drug industry rigidly adhere to.

I was reminded of this analogy while reading the Financial Page in the August 8&15, 2005 issue of The New Yorker magazine. The author summarized Hollywood's basic strategy: "invest a lot of money in films that have the potential to be blockbusters, target teen-agers as a core audience, and spend enormous amounts of energy and money trying to get people to the theater on the first weekend."

Sound familiar? Except (?) for targeting teen-agers, this is the same strategy followed by the drug industry. Maybe the drug industry does not yet target teen-agers, but it does target a more affluent audience with discretionary income or likely to have good prescription drug coverage.

It's fair to say the drug companies, like Hollywood, invest a lot of money in products that have the potential to be blockbusters. Much less effort and money, on the other hand, are spent on products with less money-making potential such as vaccines (despite the recent ad from Merck, which touted its role in developing vaccines against childhood diseases).

The drug industry's equivalent to "getting people to the theatre" is getting people to the doctor. The industry clearly positions this as the main goal of DTC advertising and says it is a major benefit to consumers who otherwise might not seek medical attention. They fail to mention that if the consumer does not go to the doctor, the drug company does not make money. Same with movies, although I have a much better experience going to the movie theater than to my doctor's office.

The author of The New Yorker article also points out that Hollywood should pay more attention to DVD sales after the movie is released, because this is where the profit really is for the movie industry.

Generics are to the drug industry what DVDs are to the movie industry. After the movie runs its course in the theaters, it enters the DVD market. I am not sure whether DVDs are cheaper than going to the movies, so the analogy with generic drugs may not hold up.

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Zika Vaccine: A Blockbuster Opportunity for Pharma Thanks to Tourists

Zika Vaccine: A Blockbuster Opportunity for Pharma Thanks to Tourists | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Though still years out, an effective Zika vaccine could beat a path to blockbuster sales, thanks to demand from travelers to endemic areas--which include some common tourist destinations. That's a key difference from the limited market prospects in other mosquito-borne diseases.


That blockbuster potential, plus an urgent medical need, has prompted a burst of R&D in the field, Reuters reports.


A Zika vaccine could reel in more than $1 billion in sales from “just a portion” of U.S. travelers, Inovio CEO J. Joseph Kim told the news service. And that's a conservative estimate, he said. Unlike residents of Zika-affected countries, who'd need vaccinations en masse, travelers would be able to pay a high price for protection, and thus are viewed as the most attractive market for a prospective shot.


Though other mosquito-borne diseases can lead to hospitalizations and death, the thousands of microcephaly cases caused by Zika have served to raise the alarm on the virus, quickly boosting vaccine development efforts.


So far, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Takeda and dozens of smaller companies and organizations have committed to Zika vaccine R&D. The National Institutes of Health and Inovio are in clinical trials with their candidates.



Pharma Guy's insight:

As Reuters notes, vaccines against malaria and West Nile virus--which have been around for decades--haven’t seen the same interest from pharma.

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#Pharma Welfare: "Orphan" Blockbuster Drugs on Rise - Including Crestor!

#Pharma Welfare: "Orphan" Blockbuster Drugs on Rise - Including Crestor! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |
An FDA rule created to spur drug companies to develop treatments for rare diseases is being used far beyond its original scope, critics say.


[Would you believe that Crestor is an "orphan" drug? Also read: "How AstraZeneca Hopes To Use 'Orphan Drug' Designation To Extend Patent Life Crestor";]


A new study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine questions whether some of the biggest drug companies and their blockbuster medications are taking advantage of a decades-old act meant to increase research, development and drug approval for people suffering from rare diseases.


The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Oncology,argues that while the ODA has fostered drug development for patients with rare cancers and other diseases, current data suggest that companies are "gaming the system to use the law for mainstream drugs." 


The authors found what they deem "a pattern of pharmaceutical companies submitting drugs to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as orphan drugs but once approved, the drugs are used broadly off-label with the lucrative orphan drug protections and exclusivity benefits."


The study contends that some big drug companies submit a drug for FDA approval with a narrow enough indication that would qualify it for orphan drug benefits. After FDA approval, however, the drug can be used more broadly.


For example, Rituxan (rituximab), which is made by Roche and was initially FDA approved for use in the treatment of follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, is the No. 1 selling medication approved as an orphan drug. 


"It is currently used to treat a wide variety of conditions, ranks as the 12th all-time bestselling medication in the United States, and generated over $3.7 billion in U.S. sales in 2014," the report states. 


The researchers' concern is not only the "corporate welfare" that is being afforded to blockbuster drugs and highly profitable drug companies, but that "patients with rare cancers and other diseases may suffer due to dilution of the tax incentives and other benefits" offered by the rule to spur the development of niche drugs.

Pharma Guy's insight:

As I said back in 2011 when I channeled Will Sutton's ghost: Orphan Drugs Are Now "Where the Money Is." I said: Until a few years ago, if you asked a pharmaceutical company executive why his or her company developed and marketed an "orphan drug" -- ie, a drug for a disorder affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. -- you would likely have gotten a response such as "because there is an unmet medical need" or something similar. Today, however, orphan drugs also have the potential to turn into blockbusters. Read more here: 

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2015 Will See More Blockbuster Drugs Than Ever

2015 Will See More Blockbuster Drugs Than Ever | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

The Intellectual Property and Science business of Thomson Reuters, the world’s leader in intelligent information for businesses and professionals, today released the 2015 edition of its annual Drugs to Watch report. The study reveals a significant increase in the number of expected blockbusters from three drugs in 2014 to eleven in 2015. Three of the new drugs are expected to reach over $3 billion in sales by 2019. 

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