Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tekturna: looking for growth in antihypertensives

One company's generic-infested, avoid-at-all-costs, too-little-too-late, carcass of a primary care market is another company's big relief, big news, and big hope for a rebound.

Novartis AG's aliskiren (Tekturna), the first ever renin inhibitor approved to treat hypertension, got the FDA nod yesterday in what can only be described as Novartis' best piece of news in a long while. The Swiss pharma can take a minute to enjoy its success before getting back to defending its right to fight against cheaper versions of its drugs in India, sweating about delays to its great diabetes hope Galvus, and arguing with shareholders over the mountain of money it pays its chairman and CEO Dan Vassella.

OK, minute's up.

Other pharmaceutical companies, even those with established cardiovascular franchises that have clung to their primary care aspirations during the current decidedly specialist shift, like AstraZeneca, now consider the blood pressure market to be tapped out. Genericly available drugs do a pretty damn good job of controlling blood pressure for the vast majority of patients, so why spend a fortune developing a Tekturna to compete against these cheap alternatives in an environment where payors are increasingly asking for innovation in exchange for top dollar pricing.

That's not to say Tekturna isn't innovative--the drug was successfully developed by Novartis and Speedel Group (who for now looks to be the big winner, at least stock-wise) in an area where every one else who gave it a try had failed, and data suggests it can control blood pressure a bit better and longer than ARBs, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. Novartis will aim to transfer patients off Diovan, it's ARB, and onto Tekturna, as Diovan goes off patent in 2012.

But is it innovative enough, for enough patients, enough of the time? In an upcoming interview to be published in IN VIVO in March, AstraZeneca CEO David Brennan notes that AZ has moved away from hypertension, suggesting the company doesn't "see the science breaking in such a way to compel us to invest in that," unlike other primary care areas like diabetes.
There are believers out there. Analysts estimate billions of dollars in peak sales and profits. Novartis may yet enjoy that rebound.

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