When Tom McCourt, chief commercial officer at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, first met with company R&D chief Mark Currie, he had a critical question about up-and-coming product Linzess.
"Is this a constipation drug that improves abdominal symptoms, or is this an abdominal pain drug that improves constipation?" he asked.
The way he saw it, "if it was the former, well, then we've basically got a laxative," McCourt recently told Medical Marketing & Media. But it was the latter--and that's put the med on a trajectory he thinks will eventually take the product to the blockbuster threshold and beyond.
Ironwood, along with partner Forest--now part of Allergan--have taken that differentiating factor and run with it. Allergan, with its broad commercial reach, has gotten through to thousands of primary care physicians, along with the payer community: More than 170,000 docs have prescribed the drug, and 75% of insured patients have unrestricted access to it, according to McCourt. The companies have already launched three DTC efforts, with the latest putting patients front and center to highlight their individual stories and tout the drug's advantages over OTC remedies.
"Try laxatives," one man says, scoffing, "been there, done that." "My chronic constipation keeps coming back," another woman laments. "I know. Tell me something I don't know."
The result of the companies' marketing efforts? $454.8 million in U.S. sales in 2015, up from $173.2 million just one year prior.
The benefits of a successful Linzess push aren't stopping there. As Allergan's president of branded pharma, Bill Meury, told investors this week on a conference call, that "primary care firepower" it built up with Linzess helped it exceed early launch expectations with new IBS-D product Viberzi--a performance that will be especially important for the drugmaker in the wake of its recently canceled $160 billion Pfizer merger.
"We went into that market with Viberzi right along alongside Linzess, and when we look at the prescription volume or sales levels in that segment or market we are very, very encouraged," he said.