Will hospitals pay premium for Optimer's Dificid?

Will hospitals pay more for Optimer Pharmaceuticals' new antibiotic Dificid? That's the question, now that the FDA has given its blessing to the drug, which is the first new treatment in 25 years for Clostridium difficile, the difficult-to-banish intestinal infection that's increasingly common in hospital patients.

Optimer has priced Dificid at $2,800 for a 10-day course of treatment. That's almost twice the cost of Vancocin, ViroPharma's injectable form of vancomycin that's now used to treat C. diff; it runs $1,000 to $1,500 for a 10- to 14-day course of the lowest dose. Optimer CEO Pedro Lichtinger figures that Dificid is worth it, given data showing it's better at preventing a recurrence. Patients treated with Vancocin may need more than one course of treatment--not to mention more hospital services--making Dificid more inexpensive overall, he said during a phone call with analysts.

That's essentially Optimer's marketing strategy for the drug: Persuade hospitals, doctors and nursing homes that Dificid will be most cost-effective in the long run. Analysts are divided on whether it will work. "There is strong rationale for (Dificid) to command premium pricing," Robert W. Baird analyst Thomas Russo said in an investor note, "but this has been a price-sensitive market, and the possibility remains for low-priced Vancocin generics" to rival the new drug.

As The Street points out, there's also the question of whether doctors will turn to Dificid as a first-line treatment, or whether they'll try Vancocin first, and then use Dificid if the infection refuses to yield. Cost could play into that decision, Citadel Securities researchers figure; they say Dificid won't affect Vancocin market share much at all, the Philadelphia Inquirer notes. Why? Because of "hospitals' high sensitivity to drug pricing."

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- check out the Inquirer article