Can rival allergy-drug launches deliver for both Stallergenes and Merck?

New Stallergenes CEO Christian Chavy--Courtesy of Ares Life Sciences

The small French pharma Stallergenes expects FDA approval for its new allergy immunotherapy this month, about the same time Merck ($MRK) anticipates word on its own. That may look like a head-to-head mismatch, giving Merck a clear advantage. But Stallergenes thinks a double dose of immunotherapy marketing could help both companies capture share in the allergy market.

That's not to say the French company won't be looking for ways to compete with the global drug giant come launch time. For now, it's getting a head start with a change at the top: Christian Chavy will replace Roberto Gradnik as CEO as Stallergenes looks to navigate the U.S. market.

Gradnik will step aside March 31 to make way for Chavy, a former president of global operations for Actelion Pharmaceuticals ($ATLN). The appointment will place a particular focus on the U.S., the company said.

"We're very close to getting a response from the FDA for Oralair in the United States. We're closing a very important cycle of transformation for the company and it's good, for the next cycle, to bring in some change," Gradnik told the news service.

Current Stallergenes CEO Roberto Gradnik--Courtesy of Stallergenes

Stallergenes expects that response by the end of this month, and U.S. marketing partner Greer Laboratories told Reuters it's looking to start selling the med--which harnesses the immune system to alleviate allergies, providing an alternative to the familiar allergy shots--within weeks of the regulatory go-ahead.

That should place the fast-dissolving tablet in a showdown with Merck's Grastek, which the pharma giant plans to launch "very shortly after approval," Robert Consalvo, Merck's director of global communications, told FiercePharmaMarketing in an email.

But as Gradnik told FiercePharmaMarketing, a little competition could be a good thing for both companies as they look to spread the word on the new therapeutic options for allergy sufferers. Yes, there are differences between the two meds, and yes, Merck will have its market share, Gradnik conceded. But as he sees it, having two tablets on the market can expand overall tablet use, as he says European sales have shown.

"There is a transformation of the market which is needed, and this is where having two companies at more or less the same time is a good thing," Gradnik said in a phone interview. "We see the fact that Merck is going to come to the market as a positive factor."

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