Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Galvus Misses Its Window; Is this All Good for Merck?

The Galvus delay is terrible news for Novartis.

Competitor Januvia, from Merck, has already seen the single best launch in recent memory for an anti-diabetes product. With a 40% share of new written scrips just four months after introduction, it may be the best launch of any new drug into a crowded category. Given its labelling -- “similar to that reported with placebo” -- doctors are rushing to prescribe what one clinician called a "no-brainer drug": zero training required in administering it; once-a-day dosing, with or without food, with or without any other medication. Once they're comfortable with Januvia, why would doctors switch to anything else, unless they're dramatically differentated?

Originally estimated to be three months behind Januvia, Galvus was already at a big timing disadvantage. Things are now much worse. Galvus seemed to have little differentiation over Januvia before (and therefore little chance of gaining a market-share advantage--now its only differentiation is negative: the skin lesions in primates, linked in FDA's mind to the toxicities seen with the drug at very high doses. That won't encourage doctors to try new patients on Galvus, particularly if, as a number of experts believe, Galvus' label--granted the drug's ultimately approved--comes with restrictions on use.

The potential time bomb for Merck is that Galvus' problems will redound to its detriment--just as the problems around Merck's own Vioxx KO'd Pfizer's Celebrex. FDA's metabolic division has been under severe scrutiny and it's possible they could do the cautious thing and start looking at lot more closely at Januvia. And when they do, will doctors too start thinking a lot more before prescribing what was once a no brainer?

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