Pfizer aims at Genzyme with Gaucher drug approval

Watch out, Genzyme. In announcing the FDA approval of its new Gaucher disease treatment Elelyso, Pfizer ($PFE) put the Sanofi ($SNY) unit firmly in its sights. Besides the usual talk about "making a difference in the lives of patients," the Elelyso press release repeatedly mentioned supply problems with previously approved treatments--which everyone knows refers to Genzyme.

We won't put patients through those ups and downs, Pfizer was saying, in a not-so-subtle reminder that Genzyme had to shut down production of its rare-disease drugs after a virus contaminated a Boston-area plant. That snafu, coupled with a dearth of backstock, triggered shortages of Cerezyme and its fellow treatments. "To help minimize the possibility of supply disruptions, Pfizer is launching the 'Supply Continuity Program' which will endeavor to maintain a continuously restocked 24 months of supply at various stages of production," the company said.

And then the Pfizer statement proclaimed that its Gaucher drug would be priced 25% lower than Genzyme's Cerezyme. For patients with commercial insurance, Pfizer is offering 100% co-pay assistance on Elelyso and financial assistance to the un- and under-insured. And, as per usual with drugs targeted at very small populations, Pfizer will have a 24/7 help line offering reimbursement assistance, pharmacy support and other aid.

To drive Elelyso, Pfizer will have to fully execute on the patient-support side. Loyalty is a big deal in the rare-disease world. Genzyme had been particularly good at working closely with its patients before the supply problems began (which may have intensified their disappointment as production lagged, but that's another story). Pfizer has to be just as good, or better.

- read the Pfizer release
- check out the Forbes coverage
- see the Reuters news