AZ enlists U.K. minister to help boost Brilique use

AstraZeneca ($AZN) is lobbying for more Brilique scripts in the U.K. And the drugmaker has a government minister ready to be its champion. As Bloomberg reports, Science Minister David Willetts went to bat for AZ at the National Health Service, urging the state-run health system to step up use of the blood thinner.

Sold as Brilinta in the U.S., the drug hasn't performed as well as AstraZeneca had hoped. Slow out of the gate after approval in 2011, Brilinta/Brilique lagged in 2012 as generic Plavix hit the market. And now, with newly off-patent Seroquel barely gasping for breath, AstraZeneca desperately needs higher sales of newer products.

And the U.K. offers some room for growth, if the bureaucracy will go along. Approved by the country's cost-effectiveness watchdogs in October 2011, Brilique still isn't easily accessible throughout the NHS, AstraZeneca spokeswoman Vanessa Rhodes told Bloomberg. Local primary-care trusts are often slow to adopt new (and more expensive) medicines, the company said.

"Despite this recommendation and the NHS target of reducing the mortality rate from cardiovascular disease, it is currently only routinely available to patients in some parts of England," Rhodes said. "We share the NHS and the government's objective of broadening patient access to innovative medicines."

Willetts took an even broader view. According to the Manchester Evening News (via CardioBrief), the minister is asking NHS "to increase its use of [Brilique], amid mounting political concern about the drugs company's commitment to British jobs."

There's plenty of justification for that concern. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, hired in from Roche ($RHHBY) to engineer a turnaround, is obviously ready to shake up the company; he has now sacked two top executives and reorganized his management structure. Plus, the company is in the middle of a job-cutting program aimed at reducing the payroll by 7,300. Based in the U.K., AstraZeneca has thousands of workers in its home country, and has already announced some layoffs.

Is government arm-twisting the most effective strategy for boosting Brilique? If it's just a matter of NHS red tape--and physicians are ready to start writing out Brilique scripts--then maybe so. But that top-down approach could backfire, too. Doctors do prefer to feel that they're making prescription decisions based on patient needs, not local jobs.

- read the Bloomberg story
- get more from CardioBrief
- see the story from The Times

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