Boehringer revs up Ofev sales force, support services to rival Roche's Esbriet in IPF

When it comes to the makings of a market-share showdown, the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) landscape has it all. Same-day FDA approvals? Check. A patient population never before reached by pharma? Check. Nearly identical price tags? As of this week, that's a check, too.

Monday, Boehringer Ingelheim pegged its brand-new treatment, Ofev, at $96,000--just a hair over the $94,000 Roche ($RHHBY) will charge for its own contender, Esbriet. It's a price Boehringer's U.S. CEO, Paul Fonteyne, said his company put a lot of thought into.

"We proactively sought input from all the stakeholders associated with the treatment of patients with IPF," he told FiercePharmaMarketing. This includes patients, physicians, payers and patient advocacy groups. Boehringer also took into account the prices of orphan drugs in other indications, absent a prior IPF drug to use as a reference.

While Ofev does come in a touch more expensive than Esbriet, Fonteyne said he doesn't expect the price differential to make a difference in the battle for market share--but plenty of other factors will.

"The support services we provide around the product and how effectively we present the product to physicians and patients will be the driving force in terms of what eventually results from a market share perspective," he said.

Boehringer Ingelheim's U.S. CEO Paul Fonteyne

For one, Boehringer has a patient support program in place, dubbed Open Doors, that features 24/7 access to nurse support, financial support resources and additional sources of information. On the access side, the pharma will offer up copay assistance of up to $30,000 per year, and for eligible patients without any financial resources, a patient assistance program will cover the entire cost.

In a release last week, Roche said it will be fielding a similar program for Esbriet, "designed to help with access, financial support and ongoing education."

While Esbriet has the worldwide head start after winning European approval in 2011 and subsequent nods from Norway, Iceland and Canada, Boehringer thinks it can use its marketing muscle to make up some ground in the U.S. There, it'll be fielding a team of 100 to 200 sales reps and associated nursing professionals to get the word out. And it's enlisting the help of its experienced COPD field forces, too, which Fonteyne says have a strong presence in doctors' offices around the world.

"This is a very specific patient population with very intense treatment needs and very intense support needs," he said. A "team is assembled and has been trained to support patients with IPF and physicians treating IPF, and it is already in the field interacting with physicians who are eager to learn about this important product for a patient population that hasn't had any pharmaceutical options before."

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