Court to give speedy answer in Actavis bid to yank old Namenda off market

Actavis ($ACT) is waiting eagerly to find out whether it can move forward with its plans to force patients over to a new, patent-protected version of blockbuster Alzheimer's treatment Namenda. And its waiting period just got shorter.

A U.S. court of appeals agreed to expedite the Dublin drugmaker's appeal of a lower court ruling that required the company to keep distributing the original version of Namenda. Now, the court plans to hand down a decision by the middle of next month, Actavis said Tuesday. But in the meantime, the company has to keep the old Namenda on the market.

"We are pleased that the appeals court has agreed to hear this on an accelerated basis and optimistic that the court will overturn the lower court's unprecedented ruling," Actavis chief Brent Saunders said in a statement.

Actavis has quite a bit riding on Namenda, which raked in $1.5 billion over the company's fiscal year ended in March. It could certainly use some of those revenues if it hopes to hit the lofty sales targets it recently set out after acquiring Allergan ($AGN)--including 8%-plus revenue growth each year.

But Namenda's IP shield runs out in April, and the way the company sees it, yanking the original from the market before generics hit--to quickly shepherd patients over to the new, extended release formula--is the only surefire way to keep that sales stream protected. If the injunction stands, it could reduce Actavis' projections for the franchise by 10% to 15% in 2016, Saunders has said.

Actavis CEO Brent Saunders

In the meantime, though, Actavis is "full out on Plan B, which is to drive as much conversion in the normal course of as we possibly can," Saunders said this week at an investor conference, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal's Pharmalot. Patients are currently hopping over to the new Namenda at a rate of 40%, but he thinks the company has a "very good shot" at reaching between 65% and 70% by the summer--though it's not a "slam dunk," he said.

Successful conversion without a forced hard switch is certainly possible. Just ask Teva ($TEVA), which blew analysts away with its success at switching patients to a long-lasting version of top-selling multiple sclerosis injection Copaxone.

And the way Sterne Agee analyst Shibani Malhotra sees it, an injunction wouldn't even be all that dire. If it stands, "the impact on the bottom line is manageable and will therefore be muted," she wrote in a note to clients.

- read Actavis' release
- get more from Pharmalot

Special Reports: The top 10 patent losses of 2015 - Namenda | Pharma's top 10 M&A deals of 2014's first half - Actavis/Forest Laboratories