Monday, February 04, 2008

The Wacky World of Generics: Protonix Edition

Here is a headscratcher.

Wyeth decided January 30 to launch an authorized generic version of its blockbuster proton pump inhibitor pantoprazole (Protonix). The launch comes a month after generic manufacturer Teva shocked Wyeth by launching its own version at risk. Teva quickly halted shipments under a standstill agreement with Wyeth, and the company's investors assumed (prayed?) that a settlement would follow.

Apparently not. Wyeth decided to launch its own generic under a license to Prasco (more on them later). The announcement came the day before the standstill agreement with Teva was set to expire.

Wyeth's announcement was followed by a generic launch from a third company, Sun Pharmaceuticals, which under the complex rules governing these things shares six-months of generic exclusivity with Teva. Sun had not launched previously, presumably since it feared the potential for steep damages should it eventually lose the underlying patent litigation.

However, with two prior launches (Teva's in December and Wyeth/Prasco's the day before), Sun decided to take the chance.

And then Teva announced that it has no plans to relaunch its own.


Did Wyeth really just finish off its biggest brand in response to a non-existent threat that Teva would re-enter the market for good? And why on earth is Teva sitting back and watching one of the biggest generic opportunities in history wither away?

Welcome to the wacky world of generics.

Believe it or not, there is a way in which this bizarre series of circumstances might make sense for all the players involved.

Bernstein Research's Ronny Gal and Tim Anderson suggested one possibility in a note sent Friday. Teva's decision not to launch reflects the fact that it already has significant inventory in the trade, so it has nothing to gain from contributing to a price war that would affect the selling price it can realize on the product already in distribution. And, by waiting until after Sun enters the market this time, Teva further minimizes the potential size of any damages it might owe down the road if it loses the underlying case.

If that is the case, expect Teva to launch sometime in the next quarter or so, once trade inventories of its product are depleted and it can come in at a new, more deeply discounted price.

There is another option, the Bernstein analysts say: that Teva gambled and lost. The at-risk launch was a bad gamble by Teva, intended to extort a settlement from Wyeth in litigation the generic company believes it will lose. In that case, Wyeth is calling Teva's bluff and will ultimately prevail in court, recouping at least some of its losses on the generic.

In theory, Teva could be on the hook for treble damages. However, because Wyeth has already lost a preliminary injunction ruling in the case, it is extremely unlikely that it would be awarded any damages above the actual losses incurred to Teva's product.

Bernstein believes Wyeth is pursuing the right course in either case: it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle now that Teva's product is in distribution, and an authorized generic launch helps Wyeth hold on to a bigger share of pantoprozole revenues for longer. If the company wins the litigation and gets a bit more money back, so much the better.

The big winners in all this, however, are not the battling companies. Instead, they are the payors who will probably reap the biggest benefit, as generic competition in the PPI class intensifies. With Protonix once a $2.5 billion brand, there is plenty of savings to be had. But the opportunity is even bigger since it is sure to increase pressure on AstraZeneca to further discount esomeprazole (Nexium).

In fact, that pressure may already be showing. AZ reported last week that Nexium experienced a net price decline of about 8% in the US last year--but that came almost entirely in the fourth quarter. The company said US sales of the brand fell 18% in the last three months of the year, despite about a 2% increase in volume. Yes, its discounts really are that deep and getting deeper.

Oh, and then there is Prasco. In case you've never heard of them, they are a relatively new start-up (formed in 2002) by former Duramed CEO Thomas Arington to focus on--you guessed it--authorized generics. Duramed, incidentally, once took on Wyeth over the course of a decade in an unsuccessful battle to market a generic version of conjugated estrogens (Premarin).

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.


Adam J. Fein, Ph.D. said...

Very interesting situation. FYI, Prasco is involved in litigation with CVS Caremark regarding a "most favored nation" pricing clause with CVS. See my post CVS Channel Power.


Anonymous said...

What is the case for Sun Pharmaceuticals here? What do they stand to gain/lose by going for an at-risk launch?