Thursday, March 24, 2011

AZ's Payer Push No Help to Brilique in France

These days, you've got to schmooze with the payers as well as the regulators. AstraZeneca knows that; it has indeed been playing up its payer-focused strategy, with recent declarations of its bid to become "the number one company in terms of payer interactions," according to top AZ dealmaker Shaun Grady.

So it should have known that just because clot-buster Brilique was approved by the European authorities in December 2010, that wasn't the end of the story. And indeed, the French health technology assessment agency, known as the Transparency Commission, following a Jan. 19 review meeting, rejected the drug for reimbursement/pricing discussions. Hence AZ withdrew its submission.

The agency is concerned about the drug's side-effect profile, and was also influenced by FDA's lukewarm response to AZ's application for approval in the U.S.: FDA in December sent the company a complete response letter questioning the drug's efficacy in U.S. patients.

Fair enough; after all, the drug didn't seem to work among the U.S. cohort of AZ's 19,000-patient, multi-national Phase III trial. There are all sorts of discussions ongoing as to whether it's because the U.S. patients were on higher aspirin than those in other countries. According to AZ, the French want to see additional information, including clinical data contained within the company's response to the CRL, which was submitted on Jan. 21. (In other words, too late for the French meeting).

Anyway, the moral is that payers are likely to jump on concerns raised by any approval agency, even those outside their own territories. (We don't suspect France's concerns are anything to do with the fact that the genericizing competitor drug Plavix is ... well, French.)

It's tough luck for AZ, though, despite its best intentions (..."we're meeting payers' needs for value-based product differentiation by improving our ability to assess clinical and economic outcomes in real-world populations (as an example, earlier this year we announced a new outcomes study we were kicking off for Brilinta) declared an AZ spokesperson earlier this year).

France accounts for nearly a third of the market share for anti-platelet drugs in Europe, according to Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson. And AZ needs Brilique it faces expiries for Nexium and Seroquel. It also needs the drug to start generating revenues fast, because Plavix is either going or gone off patent.

AZ says it plans to supplement the Brilique reimbursement dossier and plans to resubmit to France's Transparency Commission within the coming months. Hopefully for it, the French set-back won't give FDA, set to rule by July 20, any further concerns. Anderson suggests in a March 23 note that "the odds of a negative ruling would seem to increase at least slightly."

Zut alors.

Update: AZ has corrected us on a couple of technicalities: The Transparency Commission didn't actually reject Brilique, they asked for additional information, and AZ withdrew its submission. Similarly, FDA wasn't questioning the drug's efficacy in U.S. patients, it was requesting additional analyses with respect to those patients. Sorry.

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