Shire's Vyvanse could bag another lucrative new market in menopausal women

Shire ($SHPG) has been working hard to expand blockbuster Vyvanse beyond ADHD. And now, new research has suggested another avenue for doing just that.

In a study funded by the Irish drugmaker and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), investigators found the treatment may help improve "executive function"--brain activities including memory, reasoning, multitasking, planning and problem-solving--in menopausal women, HealthDay News reports. That's a big market, with 90 million postmenopausal women in the U.S.

"Cognitive changes happen in the majority of women going through menopause, and memory loss, poor concentration, a short attention span and other cognitive changes can be disruptive and frustrating," Providence Saint John's Health Center obstetrician-gynecologist Sheryl Ross told the publication.

In the study, authors gave 40 to 60 milligrams of Vyvanse or placebo to 32 women who were going through or had just finished menopause and had complained of executive function difficulties. After four weeks, the two groups switched, and both showed better scores on symptoms assessments while taking the Shire med.

Shire CEO Flemming Ornskov

It's a promising report for Shire, which has been using Vyvanse to try to diversify its market beyond its flagship ADHD lineup. In February, the therapy scored the FDA's first approval for binge eating disorder, a nod CEO Flemming Ornskov predicted would pad sales by an additional $200 million to $300 million.

And the menopause therapy market is a large one; just ask Pfizer ($PFE), whose Premarin line of menopausal side effect treatments generates blockbuster-level sales. Plenty of companies are vying for a chunk of the revenue, too: Pfizer's Estring, approved to treat menopausal changes in the vagina, competes with Shionogi's Osphena, for one, and its Duavee--which treats hot flashes and helps prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis--is up against rivals like Noven Pharmaceuticals' new Brisdelle.

Using Vyvanse isn't without its risks, though, as some critics have been quick to point out. Known side effects include irregular heartbeat, skin numbness and nausea, and those with a history of heart conditions or substance dependence are advised not to use the treatment.

The addiction risk in particular has triggered criticism amid Shire's push into BED. Some industry watchers claim the company is overmarketing what is essentially an amphetamine, The New York Times pointed out earlier this year. And Shire has already shelled out $56.6 million to settle federal charges that it crossed the line while promoting the med.

Shire, though, sees it as its "responsibility" to get the word out, spokeswoman Gwen Fisher recently told FiercePharmaMarketing. The company's goals are to provide "balanced information about the medications we bring to market and the conditions they treat" and to serve as an "advocate for the patients who suffer from these disorders," she wrote in an email.

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Special Report: The 25 most influential people in biopharma in 2015 - Flemming Ornskov - Shire