Cephalon hikes Provigil price to push new med

Remember that priority review that Cephalon snared for its stay-awake drug Nuvigil? Well, scratch that. The company says FDA officials need more time to consider the use of Nuvigil for drowsiness associated with jet lag. The action deadline is now March 29, rather than December 29 as previously scheduled. In the meantime, Cephalon is raising the price of Nuvigil's predecessor to entice folks to switch brands.

Nuvigil is Cephalon's answer to impending generic competition for its big sleep drug Provigil. The drug was launched in the U.S. in June, with the company aiming to build a base of patients for Nuvigil before the older drug falls off patent in 2012. It's high stakes for Cephalon, because Provigil accounted for about half of the company's 2008 revenues.

And like many drugmakers before it, Cephalon is hiking the price of the older med to encourage people to switch to the newer one. That way, patients would grow accustomed to taking Nuvigil--and would be less likely to move to a Provigil copy than if they simply continued taking Provigil. The size of that price hike is 29 percent to $13.62 per pill, Dow Jones reports. 

Analysts said that the switcheroo has been working so far, and that the price increase likely will speed up the process. Especially because the boost in price was "larger than expected," according to Jim Birchenough of Barclay's Capital, who estimates it could add 50 cents per share to Cephalon's Q1 earnings. Birchenough predicts that Nuvigil will make up 60 percent of total scrips for the two meds by the end of 2010, compared with 26 percent in November 2009.

- check out the Cephalon release
- see the Dow Jones piece
- read the news from Reuters