Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This is the Dawning of the Age of Extavia

(I am not a marketing person. I don't have the personality, or the mindset, or the training. So this story only barely makes sense to me. I'm sure the marketing or business people out there will tell me this is perfectly logical).


Isn't that a great name?

I have to wonder how much they paid the person who thought it up. It has a cool ring and the letters "X" and "V" (according to my friends who do sales, these, along with "Z", are considered "power letters", and putting them in words is supposed to connote something impressive).

With a name like that you'd think the drug was new, powerful, groundbreaking.

Extavia! NEW! For Multiple Sclerosis!

Released to the neurology world recently with hoopla, ads, drug rep lunches, etc.

Would you believe that Extavia is over 15 years old, and is being used to launch a drug that isn't even on the market yet?

Here's the story: Betaseron (Beta Interferon 1b) has been on the U.S market since the early 90's. It was the first drug ever approved for MS, and certainly is a decent drug. I prescribe my share of it. It's manufactured by Bayer.

Novartis, another pharmaceutical company, is developing a new MS drug, which it hopes to bring to market in the next 6-18 months.

But Novartis has no MS drug currently out there (though they do have 3 big neurological ones under patent). So they decided that, to get a foot in the MS marketing door now, they should hire a bunch of new reps (though they already have a fairly well-trained neurology sales force), and train them to market MS drugs. This is hard to do when you don't have one.

So they bought a license from Bayer to sell Betaseron, too, to get their reps some practice. But, since they didn't want to market plain old, early-90's Betaseron, they renamed it Extavia! New name! New marketing! Same drug! Same dosing! Same everything except the name (actually, I think the price is slightly lower)!

And, of course, Betaseron is still on the market. In fact, Bayer is making all the Extavia, too. So Bayer is likely going to clean up on the deal, since they get paid regardless of which gets prescribed.

I suspect Novartis will not make money on this, and is using Extavia as a loss leader, hoping to make the money back when the new drug comes out in a year or two.

On the one hand, I think it's good that they're hiring a new sales force to sell Extavia and future drug. Certainly, jobs are good for the economic recovery.

But on the other hand, it still seems kind of silly to me. Like I said, though, I'm not a marketing person.


Amanda said...

Good gracious. How do you even follow all of that? It all seems more than ridiculous.

The Good Cook said...

As an exmarketer I can tell you how they came up with the name. I have sat in on many, many such meetings.

"We need a new, powerful name for this old drug people. Put the bagels down and put your thinking caps on".

People (probably around 15 highly paid marketers with one or two upper management)...8 will be in the room, 7 on a conference line as they are scattered around the country. hmm.. one person will stand at the white board and write down everything that people throw out.. no answer is too dumb or too weird.. someone will always suggest some over the top name and everyone will LAUGH..

Once they get about 15 - 20 names on the white board they will "vote" on the top five. Of course one of the bosses suggestion will be in the top five no matter how stupid the name.

By now an hour or so has passed and the meeting has to wind down because there is another meeting scheduled for the room.

The top 5 new names for the old drug will go to the "top of the house"... where a very big boss will say he / she doesn't like any of them. then there will be another meeting. The 10 or 15 names that were thrown out will be resurrected, whittled down to 3 "top, top" names and get sent back up to the top of the house. The big, big boss will hate them all, come with a name like Extavia (which is his mistress's name) and voila.

The name will now go to the legal department where a huge, very expensive name search (TM) will have to be conducted by extremely overpaid lawyers to make sure it is not in use by ANY company, anywhere. If this name search comes out clean, VOILA. A new old drug is born. If not, say if it is being used in Peoria as the name for an ice cream store - go back to the first paragraph and reread.

That name, Extavia - probably cost about $5m.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Good Cook- Thank you for clarifying that.

Obviously, my exposure to the business world is minimal.

Doris said...

Hey, Good Cook!

I was wondering how a drug named Trixie SR ever got on the market...



Lisa-Rph said...

I'm a pharmacist, and these duplicate, "me-too" drugs drive me crazy. The FDA is just as much to blame because they give approval for this nonsense!

nRT said...

Drug Company's have to make 'money, money,money by the pounds.' (off the common people)

Anonymous said...

soon your MS patients on Betaseron will be demanding you switch them to Extavia. The internet says it's new.

Barb said...

Oooh, I remember sitting in on a marketing meeting or two when I worked in R and D of a big company. The best part was trying to get them to understand that one piece of data does not support a whole marketing campaign.

mct said...

Just like making up new drugs from the old one..
xyzal for zyrtec
nexium for prilosec
it's all about the money for them.

Ladyk73 said...

I used to cringe when the different antihistamine companies would claim that their drug was the only one that has been approved for both indoor AND outdoor allergies!!! Like there is a fundamental difference between the two...

Square Peg Guy said...

Ordinarily I love to post snide comments. But this time I am completely sincere in opining that this might actually be a better drug for MS patient due to its additional placebo effect. And it "Duz" sound cool!

Ann T. said...

Dr Grumpy,
What cheap plastic stuff did they hand out? My favorite of all time, they gave out plastic LED clocks in the shape of the suppository and the drug name stuck on.

The whole cheap plastic thing was on a marble base. OMG! Perfect for a place of honor on a desk.

Ann T.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Ann T.- nothing. All of it was banned effective 1-1-09. No pens, post-it notes, clocks, paper clips, anything. Only educatonal material are allowed, which must be FDA approved, and they cannot have a drug name on them.

Anonymous said...

(WARNING: in supercilious and self-righteous mode.) As a pharmacist, I don't think it's 'silly' at all.

(On: rant) I think it's plain 'wrong'. Millions and billions of dollars spent by drug companies, drug companies ripping off the US government (by applying for government funds for innovation and research grants, schemes for providing 'free' psych drugs to the indigent, negotiating exclusive deals with government agencies, etc.) and the merciless and rapacious pilfering of taxpayers i.e. us (as in Drug Monkey's description of Pfizer's tactic for taking over prime real estate), then on top of it not improving one damn thing about the drug while calling a drug a new name. (This is done ALL the time in the OTC industry--a product used to contain one ingredient, then when FDA finds the active ingredient no longer safe and effective, the company goes and devises a new composition of different ingredients and calls it the same thing as before.)

Several years ago I observed a co-worker, a hospital nursing supervisor whose MS status put her on disability and she was getting interferon injections. I saw her at the out-patient wound care center because the site of injections opened up whopping big sores, and the healing process was slower than the rate of drug administration. She was so debilitated at the time I saw her that surgical repair was the most viable option. I followed her over to the hospital surgical out-patient clinic and tucked a blanket up around her bare legs (her self-esteem was really low), then later that night on my shift in the hospital pharmacy I heard the CODE called as she couldn't make it through the choice of anesthesia.

To me, as the epitome of capitalism in what drug companies are doing is not something to continue grimacing about. It's a damn shame.

Our drug company 'culture' used to be the finest in the world. The best. While Germany has a National Formulary on herbals which describes the benefits of chrysanthemums just like a drug, and other 'natural products' and England has their institutes on 'Homeopathic Medicine' and personal 'homeopathic physician to the Queen', our FDA had rational, objective R&D.

As a pharmacist I could generally trust what was FDA-approved, but now with fakes entering the supply chain (via internet), and exposure of kickbacks to Medicare, etc., drug companies getting away with not labeling products in the most safe and standard manner (i.e. heparin vials), drug companies are bought and sold every single day (to avoid legal matters and increase revenue), random drugs are now unavailable for unforeseen amounts of time (metoprolol! morphine! heparin!) and questionable drug sources, outrageously laughable 'me-too' products, wink! wink! deals with Procrit vs. Epogen, etc. I am getting quite fed up with the drug industry, and sometimes question myself about the opinions (albeit usually truly misinformed) from the general public having some merit. (Off-rant)

And, no I will not 'cower' --word verification.

Ann T. said...

Dear Dr. G,
Thanks for the update! An era passed, and I had no idea. Thank heavens I know I am in a new one.

Oh, do I miss the Fifth Dimension just this minute.

Ann T.

Anonymous said...

as an ex bayer employee it makes perfect sense to me.

The Chrawnes Man said...

"I knew if I waited long enough, eventually I'd be able to name a drug after my old D&D character from 8th grade!"

-Anonymous Novartis marketing exec

Anonymous said...

Well I know the health system in the US is a LOT different from Australia, but that happens here all the time. Kind of.

I'll use the example Perivasc/Norvasc (amlodipine besylate). When a drug comes off patent other companies are allowed to start making generic versions (and the Australia version of the FDA is very strict about generic brands) of a drug. Rather than lose their share of the market for Norvasc, the original drug company makes a deal with a generic company (in this case Alphapharm,which is the biggest generic medicine company in Australia), so that rather than formulate their own generics, Sanofi Aventis (or whoever the original company is) sells half their stock of Norvasc to Alphapharm at a discounted price, which Alphapharm repackages and markets as Perivasc. It's probably cheaper than Alphapharm having to make it themselves and Sanofi Aventis gets to keep the full market of the product.

The best part is when a customer refuses Perivasc because they want the "real" brand...they're the same tablet.

I'm not sure what it's like in the USA but in Australia there's a lot of incentives for both pharmacists and consumers to buy a generic brand, but that's not what it sounds like here. It sounds like they're marketing Betaseron as a brand new drug which is just silly.

AnonMarketingDude said...

"Oooh, I remember sitting in on a marketing meeting or two when I worked in R and D of a big company. The best part was trying to get them to understand that one piece of data does not support a whole marketing campaign."

As a current Marketing schmuckity schmuck, the first thing I thought when I read this was.

"YES IT CAN?! WHY NOT?!" (Yes, I was thinking in my yelling voice)

So, let me ask my question in a nicer way, since we are on the most hospitipbale med-blog.

Why do you think that? That's what Marketing does, that is, telling someone one or maybe *MAYBE* two good things about something in a way they can understand.

(You know the first things you learn in marketing is to write your ads at a 6th grade reading comprehension level? Food for thought...)

Vanity Press said...

Shocked! I am shocked drug renaming is going on in this casino!

Disgruntled RPh said...

Aussie Anon,
It happens here the same way with Pfizer and Greenstone. Same concept, slap a generic name on it and call it different. Same tablet/capsule/etc and almost identical packaging!

kath8562 said...

Aussie anon-
Disgruntled RPh is right-
On top of that, we have the same thing going on with Prevacid/lantoprazole(Takeda) and Protonix/pantoprazole(Wyeth)- they don't even bother to, 1)sell it to a generic company-just relabel the bottles, and 2)even re-imprint them- it's Prevacid and Protonix in the bottle!

Anonymous said...

What's sad is that Extavia will be cheaper and there will be people who claim that Betaseron works better or causes fewer side effects and they'll demand the more expensive drug at the same co-pay, leaving the rest of us to pay for their stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Looks to me like a ton of money circling the drain on this one. As a pharmacist for a "specialty pharmacy" I have seen very few patients start on or transition to Extavia. I'm guessing I see 1 Extavia rx for every 200 Betaseron, maybe less.

Theoretically there is cost savings. Extavia is a bit cheaper. With the way the two drugs are packaged now (Betaseron=14vials/28days vs. Extavia=15vials/30days)patients could also save an extra copay every year with Extavia.

That being said, I really don't think there will be much of a market shift. Just an expensive way of getting people to associate Novartis with MS.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like business as usual here in the good ol' land of the free and home of the brave...anything to turn a buck.

student dr. blaze said...

the drug companies should just start using google word verification to create names for each new drug. goodness knows they're strange enough and sound like drugs....

word verification: dawlen (for droolin' problems thanks to facial palsy....)

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