FDA approval, check. Now Teva has to woo patients to new, longer-acting Copaxone

Brace yourselves for the Teva Pharmaceutical Industries marketing blitz. The company ($TEVA) won FDA approval Tuesday evening for its new three-times-a-week Copaxone, and Teva needs to convert as many patients as possible to this version before the original goes off patent in May.

Earlier this month, Teva executives said FDA approval for the new Copaxone formula would come soon, and that they'd be able to move 45% of current patients to the longer-acting version. Their word is good on the first half of that promise. What do they have planned to make sure the second comes true as well?

Well, first of all, the new formula is shipping immediately and will be available to patients "within days," the company said in a statement. Teva has staffed up at its patient support center--Shared Solutions--to help current patients move to the thrice-weekly formulation. That means help navigating insurance coverage, finding the right pharmacy, and for some, financial assistance. Patients can even call the hotline directly to ask to switch.

No doubt we will soon see ads touting the new formulation, and Teva reps have been prepping for some time for their chance to spread the word to physicians. We'd like to know what their incentive pay plan looks like, given the importance of this new product to Teva's short- and long-term prospects.

The original Copaxone is Teva's biggest seller, accounting for about 20% of its sales and half its profits; in 2012, the drug's U.S. sales amounted to almost $3 billion. The company thought it would have 18 more months to persuade patients to make the switch, but a U.S. appeals court last year invalidated a patent that expired next November. Now, the fuse runs out in May.

- see the Teva release

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