PHARMA NEWS: Alkermes Ramps VIVITROL, Offers Free First Dose

06/13/09 - ATIN - After drug marketer Cephalon spent $250M marketing the ant-craving medication VIVITROL over two years and only succeeded in driving annual sales to $20M or so, the pioneering drug's developer, Alkermes, in January took complete control over VIVITROL. In an innovative move designed to boost sales, Alkermes a couple of months ago began offering the first dose of VIVITROL free to anyone who applied.

Based in Cambridge, MA, Alkermes is part of a growing group of biotech concerns that specialize in innovative drug "delivery" systems. In the case of VIVITROL it involved taking the drug naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist FDA approved for the treatment of alcoholism and opiate addiction, and adding a drug delivery mechanism that allows for one dose to last an entire month, thus ensuring patient compliance with drug treatment regimens. With VIVITROL, the delivery mechanism is via a once-a-month injection into the muscle.

Cephalon, a company that was formed by Madison Avenue type Frank Baldino when drug marketing laws were loosened up almost two decades ago, fell down where other drug companies have also fallen down before when it comes to the nascent addictions drug sector, including Dupont with its Revia brand naltrexone drug in the 1980s. Assuming the addictions markets would be just like any other, Cephalon spent spent alot of time and effort marketing VIVITROL like it would any other drug, to physicians. But, as anyone who is familiar with the addiction treatment field knows, physicians are mostly not at all concerned about addiction and have very little involvement in its treatment. As a result, Cephalon spent vast sums to little effect.

Taking the advice of those who know the addictions industry intimately, Alkermes CEO David Broecker, along with newly appointed VIVITROL marketing chief Stephen King, have totally revamped and refocused the VIVITROL marketing effort, hiring almost 100 marketing staffers and offering innovative new approaches, with early results extremely promising.

At the core of Alkermes' effort is a new focus on marketing VIVITROL to treatment centers, which is where, after all, the addicts are. It is at treatment centers where Alkermes will find the most easliy accessed pool of acute alcoholics, which are also the alcoholics, precisely because they are in treatment, that are the ones also most likely to be the most willing participants in a VIVITROL regimen. The new marketing effort seeks to educate treatment center clinicians, the clinical directors and the medical directors, on the benefits and efficacy of integrating VIVITROL into their programs, making the medication a vital part of treatment at centers nationwide.

A key part of that mission is convincing clinicians, as well as insurance reimbursers, that $700 per dose VIVITROL is worth it. According to Alkermes insiders, the insurance reimbursers are increasingly onside as several major payors have conducted their own internal cost-benefit analyses and found VIVITROL saved substantial sums on the medical cost side as patients remain abstinent or reduced their drinking very substantially. And gold standard double-blind placebo scientific studies, like one conducted by Yale's Stephanie O'Malley, showed a massive decline in drinking by those in the study who used VIVITROL combined with psycho-social treatment, providing undeniable and dramatic clinical proof of the medication's efficacy.

Proof of the excitement surrounding the new VIVTROL marketing push at Alkermes is that former clinical personnel like Dr. Robert Forman have elected to join the marketing team in order to help get the message out about VIVITROL and ensure its commercial success. With sales failing to materialize under Cephalon's marketing stewardship, a frission of fear began to run through the rapidly growing pharma addiction research community. (At least 36 addiction drug compounds are in some stage of commercial development, by far the most in history.) The worries were justified as a failure by super high-profile VIVITROL would very likely have put a substantial damper on addictions R&D efforts at commercial drug companies, who would be fearful of having their stock prices punished by unfavorable Wall Street analyst views toward the nacsent drug sector.

Another example of successful approaches being taken by Alkermes are the series of increasingly well-attended VIVITROL seminars it is holding across the country to educate treatment centers and others in the addictions space. At one seminar, held in early June in Newton, MA, just outside of Boston, the amount of tables had to be doubled to accomdate overflowing attendees. At the seminar, Dr. Forman announced that the response had been so great to the offer of a free first dose of VIVITROL that Alkermes has had to hire an additional six employees just to handle the surging volume of applications.

Newswire Staff

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