The threat of generics often means layoffs, and in the case of Acorda’s Ampyra, that’s been true. But even if the company loses its upcoming appeal on the multiple sclerosis drug’s patents, its sales force won’t have to worry.
That's according to CEO Ron Cohen, who said in an interview that, if Acorda loses the appeal, it’s planning to put Ampyra reps on Inbrija, a Parkinson’s treatment that’s awaiting an FDA decision. “It would be a 1-to-1 transition,” Cohen said.
And if Acorda successfully restores its nixed patents, the company expects to expand its salesforce “by roughly 35% or so, give or take,” Cohen said. “They would be detailing both products, and we would need to account for those places in the country where there was not a geographic overlap in certain prescribers,” he added.
When a court decided to nix four of Acorda’s five patents—queueing up Ampyra generics for this July—Acorda let more than 100 staffers go as part of a 20% workforce scaledown. “That was very painful and traumatic for the organization,” Cohen said.
But the way the company sees it, with an Inbrija approval potentially in the cards for the near future and activist investors placated by a recent boardroom agreement, the worst is behind it. Now, it’s looking forward to its next launch—one it says will have a lot in common with its Ampyra rollout.
“It’s a different product—it has its own specific details as any new product would. But what’s most impressive to me is actually how similar a lot of the process is,” Cohen said. For one, both drugs are “intended to provide relief for among the most severe and among the most bothersome symptoms that patients experience, so in that sense there’s a very close parallel.”
The company has also taken its experience working with a patient community into the Parkinson’s field, where it’s been working with advocacy groups for the last couple of years. It has already posted educational videos on its website, and Cohen said they have been very popular.
“All of these are things we have continued to refine as we have marketed Ampyra in the MS community, and we’re taking all of those learnings and putting them right up front in Parkinson’s,” he said.
Of course, the two disease areas bear some differences—especially when it comes to reimbursement. Parkinson’s patients tend to be, on average, older than MS patients, meaning Acorda needs to “do a lot more emphasis” on the Medicare side.
An older population also means a less internet-savvy population, which could hamper a company that’s looked to “use the Internet in creative ways” to amplify its smaller marketing budget.
Acorda, though, isn’t relying exclusively on the internet to get its message out. For one thing, it’s also fielding a speaker program that includes both doctors and patients—something Cohen said “is very effective at raising awareness.”