Zogenix seeks partner, steers Zohydro marketing away from weak New England

Marketing can be a bit like dating. If you're not getting results with one target, then it's best to focus on someone else. That's exactly what Zogenix ($ZGNX) is doing, by tweaking its Zohydro launch strategy.

The controversial new all-hydrocodone painkiller didn't quite hit sales expectations for the second quarter. But the company says scripts took an upward turn in July, coming in 74% higher for the first four weeks of the month compared with the same period in April. And it's hoping some new sales tactics could keep Zohydro on that trajectory. 

For one thing, Zogenix is hunting for a marketing partner, to focus on primary care doctors it's not yet reaching, Leerink Partners analyst Jason Gerberry wrote in an investor note Wednesday.

The goal is to ink a comarketing deal that would kick off in 2015. As for the rest of this year, the company will keep pushing script numbers, rather than price hikes, to increase sales dollars. Basically that means continuing its speaker programs with physicians and working on access--a.k.a. reimbursement approvals--for patients with a Zohydro prescription.

But the most interesting marketing shift is this: Zogenix plans to rejig its marketing efforts geographically, moving resources away from New England, where it's been weakest. The reason for that can probably be encapsulated in one word. 

Massachusetts. Gov. Deval Patrick tried to ban the drug in his state, worried about Zohydro's potential to fuel the ongoing epidemic of painkiller abuse. It's a common worry, given that Zohydro lacks tamper-resistant features--and that it's the only purely hydrocodone painkiller on the market. Patrick's ban failed, but the state has been trying to limit Zohydro use in other ways.

So, no surprise that Zohydro scripts have been weakest in that state. Plus, the news coverage about Patrick's short-lived ban--carried all over the region--may have put a damper on New England sales as a whole.

Meanwhile, Zogenix is working on a tamper-resistant version of Zohydro, which it's looking to submit to the FDA for approval by next year. That effort is crucial for Zogenix, because rival Purdue Pharma is working on its own extended-release, tamper-resistant, hydrocodone-only pill, too. The FDA has hinted that it might force Zohydro off the market when and if a competing abuse-deterrent pill is approved.