Allergan expands Restasis sales force to fight off Shire's new dry eye threat

Allergan has insisted that it’s not afraid of Xiidra, Shire’s brand-new dry eye contender. But it’s adding to its sales force to ensure it has nothing to worry about.

The Dublin drugmaker has added 60 reps to its ranks to protect blockbuster Restasis, bulking up its sales corps by 20%, Allergan commercial chief Bill Meury said on Monday’s Q2 conference call. And the new faces join a “very highly trained, experienced sales force with great relationships in both areas of eye care,” he reminded investors.

That’s not the only move Allergan is making to keep up with the new competition. It has also upped its spending on DTC advertising for Restasis, and it expanded the sampling programs on that med and on its artificial tears product, Meury said.

Insurance coverage will be broader in the second half of the year than it was in the first, and “we’ve shored up formulary coverage at virtually every health plan across the country both on the commercial and the [Medicare] Part D side,” Meury said.

The way analysts see it, Allergan has good reason to shore up its defenses. Shire's Xiidra--the first product to win approval specifically for dry eye, rather than tear production--boasts a label that’s “clearly better,” Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote to clients after that drug's FDA win. And Xiidra is rolling out at the same price as Allergan’s product.

Even so, industry watchers aren’t predicting a doomsday scenario for Allergan. As Raffat says, even if Xiidra does nab somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of Restasis volume over time, Allergan may be able to offset about 10% to 15% of that through price increases. And Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal has said that Allergan’s “power of incumbency” will likely help shape a “stable oligopoly” between the two products.

- read the call transcript

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