New Vivitrol approval's a big boost for Alkermes

There's now a prescription drug approved to treat prescription drug addiction. Alkermes has won the FDA nod to promote its alcoholism treatment Vivitrol as an aid for patients hooked on opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin. Addiction-recovery experts are hailing the approval as a possible "game changer" that could keep patients on the wagon after they leave rehab treatment centers.

It could be a game-changer for Alkermes, too. Although the company has been marketing Vivitrol since 2006, it's still not bringing in enough revenues to cover its costs on the drug. Together with just one other marketed product, Alkermes posted $20.2 million in net sales for fiscal 2010, Reuters reports.

With the new indication, Leerink Swann analyst Steve Yoo tells Bloomberg that the opioid-addiction use is "critical for commercial success of the drug." As Reuters notes, Yoo has predicted Vivitrol sales of up to $125 million by 2015, provided it won FDA approval for broader use. J.P. Morgan analyst Cory Kasimov suggests a potential $200 million by 2013. That's quite a change.

The reason: Vivitrol is a new approach to addiction treatment. Rather than serving as better-than-heroin-but-still-opioid replacements for addicts trying to kick their habits--such as methadone and Suboxone--Vivitrol blocks opioid receptors in the brain.

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ALSO: Implanting the addiction-treatment drug buprenorphine in people who are opioid-dependent seems to reduce cravings in the short term, researchers say. Report

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