Unmet Need in the Migraine Space?

February 3, 2012
Ben Comer

Pharmaceutical Executive

Allergan CEO David Pyott is bullish on Botox’s potential as a salve for chronic migraine. He’s also betting on a next-gen dihydroergotamine (DHE) – Levadex – from MAP Pharmaceuticals.

Allergan CEO David Pyott

Allergan CEO David Pyott is bullish on Botox’s potential as a salve for chronic migraine. He’s also betting on a next-gen dihydroergotamine (DHE) – Levadex – from MAP Pharmaceuticals.

 

It’s hard to know whether migraine sufferers will get behind Botox as a treatment; migraine patients are notoriously allergic to doctor visits, and many go undiagnosed. But for the worst kinds of migraines, particularly those that don’t respond to triptans or currently marketed DHEs, patients will probably be willing to try just about anything. Allergan CEO David Pyott, and MAP Pharmaceuticals CEO Tim Nelson, see headroom for growth in the category.

In 2009, the migraine market slipped into a steady decline after Imitrex, the go-to member of the triptan class, lost its patent (and blockbuster sales). Many of Imitrex’s classmates – Maxalt, Amerge, Zomig, and others – will face generic competition this year, if they aren’t facing it already. That makes Botox for migraine a difficult sell – it’s for chronic migraine, firstly, and it costs exponentially more than generic Imitrex – but during a 4Q earnings call yesterday Pyott said the migraine indication is performing “better than planned.” Around 4,600 physicians have been trained to give the injection, to date, said Pyott. “The vast majority of neurologists will inject for as long as three injection cycles,” even if they’re skeptical about the drug’s efficacy for migraine,” he Pyott. He’s hoping they’ll be convinced after that.

Branded print ads for Botox migraine will launch in women’s magazines this month, and an unbranded disease awareness campaign on television “has worked – the click-through on the website is positive,” said Pyott, adding that Allergan’s internal consumer surveys have shown “a high level of satisfaction” among patients.

After an upfront payment of $60 million last February, MAP Pharmaceuticals scored a $20 million milestone payment last August, when it filed Levadex with FDA. The company could receive up to $97 million more from Allergan if all goes well with the regulatory process; the PDUFA date on Levadex is March 26. Levadex, like Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ Migranal, is a DHE, but Migranal is a nasal spray, while Levadex is inhaled. The benefit with inhalation means that the drug sidesteps first pass metabolism en route to the brain – it avoids the GI tract, and potential dilution. At JP Morgan’s 30th Annual Healthcare Conference in January, MAP CEO Tim Nelson said that Levadex “works faster, and has fewer side effects, than the triptans.” He added that 29 million scripts for migraine were written in 2008, and close to half of them were written off-label. After triptan, “41 percent of the scripts were for opioids, and 28 percent were anti-depressants,” said Nelson. MAP will hire 50 specialty sales reps if Levadex gets the FDA go-ahead, and will expand the drug into pediatrics and other neurological conditions later on, he said.

Levadex won’t compete directly with Botox for migraine; the former is for acute migraine, the latter for chronic migraine. Nelson said Allergan’s expertise in managed care, reimbursement and experience with FDA, makes it a good partner for Levadex. MAP is also looking for “a partner in Asia, and in ex-US in general,” said Nelson.

At $40 to $80, with a ceiling at $100 per dose, though, Levadex may be as tough a sell as Botox. But then again, migraine sufferers only want one thing when the pain sets in: for it to be gone.

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