Don't give up on generic Copaxone, despite Teva's aggressive brand defense: Momenta CEO

Teva's ($TEVA) multiple sclerosis star Copaxone has been clinging to its market share despite last year's rollout of Novartis ($NVS) generic Glatopa. But if anyone can wrestle it away, it's the Swiss drugmaker, partner Momenta ($MNTA) says--it just might be a little while.

Momenta CEO Craig Wheeler

The Israeli generics giant has made things tricky for its competition, Momenta CEO Craig Wheeler told investors recently on his company's fourth-quarter conference call. For one, it's switched about 75% of Copaxone users over to a new, long-acting formula of the med. And it's "aggressively defended" the rest of its slice of the pie, in part with a rebating strategy that "appears to tie rebates on their three times a week product to continue the use of the 20 mg product."

Fear not, though, Wheeler told investors: It will "take time," but Novartis generics unit Sandoz has "the capabilities necessary" and is "focused on countering these tactics," he promised. And in the meantime, Sandoz "is also focused on targeting new patients through planned formularies and step edits, which could provide us a greater share of new patients and allow Glatopa to grow in a meaningful way."

Novartis and Momenta aren't placing all their eggs in one basket, though. They're also targeting the 40-mg version of Copaxone with a knockoff, and Sandoz' application is currently under the lens of FDA staffers. While they aren't the only drugmakers eying a slice of that business--generics heavyweight Mylan ($MYL), for one, also has an ANDA in the mix--they've got the only approved API for the older iteration, and the way they see it, because of that, they "may be better positioned than others" to snag a green light for the new version.

The pair certainly wouldn't mind getting in on Teva's blockbuster revenues. If all goes as planned for Teva, Sandoz will be falling to a more distant second place in the generics world as it watches the Petah Tikva-based company swallow Allergan's ($AGN) generics business this year. And for Momenta, the 40-mg copy could be "a very important product for us," Wheeler told shareholders.

For Teva, that scenario would compound the decline it's already seen with Copaxone. The therapy turned in $960 million last year, Teva said last month, posting a 14% decline and falling short of the billion-dollar haul analysts expected to see. But the company is hoping it can ease the pain with the Allergan buy, which should take some of the reliance off Copaxone and its specialty portfolio.

- read the call transcript

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