Novartis off to scorching start with Copaxone generic Glatopa

It's still very early going for Momenta ($MNTA) and Sandoz' Glatopa, the generic of Teva's ($TEVA) multiple sclerosis star Copaxone. But if the current trend continues, the newcomer could be following in the footsteps of some pretty impressive launches.

As Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote in a Friday note to clients, the initial launch ramp for Glatopa looks a lot like that of Biogen's high-flying Tecfidera ($BIIB)--an oral med that's shaken up the MS market on its quick trip to blockbuster status--and Copaxone 40 mg, the long-lasting version of Teva's star to which the company has successfully converted the majority of patients, blowing away analyst expectations in the process.

Through one week of launch, Glatopa racked up 18 prescriptions, and that number soared to 472 by the two-week mark, according to IMS Health data.

It's good news for Momenta and Sandoz; not so good for Teva, of course, but the company expected generics to take a bite out of Copaxone sales beginning this September at the latest. The key question, at least to Raffat, is whether Glatopa is grabbing market share only from Copaxone, and it's still too early to answer that, he said.

Meanwhile, though, Glatopa may cause problems for Teva on the payer front, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal recently wrote to investors. Glatopa's presence will lead payers to put restrictions on next-gen Copaxone as they work to manage costs, he expects.

That wouldn't come as too big a surprise to industry watchers, with most payers already using formulary tools to differentiate among drugs in an MS field that's recently seen prices surge. Of 25 payers Bernstein recently analyzed, 24 had such strategies in place, with 6 of them excluding at least one product from their formularies. The result? Since last year's first quarter, price momentum has cooled down; MS prices stayed steady at about $60,000 per year after growing at a compound annual rate of about 15%, Gal noted.

The good news for Teva: Gal expects those restrictions on long-acting Copaxone to be "gradual"--and he predicts payers will put the same pressure on other competing products.

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