Here it comes:
After losing U.S. patent protection in 2009 for its Suboxone tablet, designed to help heroin users quit, Reckitt Benckiser has said that the entrance of a generic competitor could erode pharmaceutical sales and profit by 80 percent.
Reckitt Benckiser, which gets most of its revenue from selling home and personal-care products like Lysol cleaners and Durex condoms, has faced calls to sell the business before a generic comes to market. Instead, the London-based company aims to divert the showdown by switching users to a film form of the drug — one whose last patent doesn’t run out until 2025.
To get people to make the switch, Reckitt Benckiser is thinking more like a consumer company than a pharmaceutical one. It’s drawing on a marketing technique first pioneered by Coca- Cola Co. more than 100 years ago: coupons. By offering up to $45 a month toward a user’s co-payment in the U.S., the company is making the film version, which looks like a Listerine Pocketpak, close to free. That offers patients who get part of the bill subsidized by health insurance little incentive to transfer to a generic pill once it appears on the market.
“They’ve done a good job of making a silk purse out of a not very compelling situation,” said Martin Deboo, an analyst at Investec Securities Ltd. in London.
At appears a research agenda has formed to support this business strategy:
To the Editor: Strain et al. have performed a detailed and thorough treatment induction trial of a novel sublingual buprenorphine “film ” or “wafer ” in their article “Induction of Opioid-Dependent Individuals Onto Buprenorphine and Buprenorphine/Naloxone Soluble-Films.”1 However, the appropriate test for any new medication is a randomized, blinded comparison using accepted protocols against existing effective interventions, with outcome measures such as retention, drug-use parameters, and toxicology.
Instead, these authors compare a newly introduced formulation of an old drug (buprenorphine/naloxone film) with a nonapproved and unvalidated medication (buprenorphine film). In going to great lengths to show complex documentation on the differences in withdrawal characteristics between the two treatments (by means of multifarious, complex graphs), the authors appear to believe that it is important to determine whether such differences exist, even though neither of the treatments involves any known “quantity ” and that these differences are of little relevance to clinical practice.
It is a false premise that the apparent absence of differences between two treatments indicates their equivalence. Strain et al. do not make such a claim, but others may misinterpret such results in this way, just as has happened with Suboxone (combination with naloxone) and Subutex (pure), which, remarkably, have still not been subjected to equivalence testing except in a small pilot study.2 Strain et al. do not make it clear what they were trying to demonstrate in their paper, which is one of the first reports of buprenorphine in a more soluble sublingual film/wafer preparation.