While Great Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) was limiting that country's Alzheimer's patients' ability to access treatment, the FDA was expanding access here in the United States.
Japan's fourth-largest pharmaceutical, Eisai (OTC BB: ESALY.PK), won the right to have its best-selling drug Aricept prescribed for moderate to severe symptoms of Alzheimer's. Previously, the drug -- which is co-marketed with Pfizer
Prior to the ruling, the only drug that had been approved for treating advanced symptoms of Alzheimer's was memantine, which is marketed by Forest Labs
The market for Alzheimer's treatment is unfortunately large and growing. Worldwide sales of all treatments are estimated to be around $3 billion, and the market is expected to grow to $5.5 billion by 2009, according to Millennium Research Group.
Eisai's sales of Aricept grew to $1.7 billion when it reported results back in May, an increase over the prior year, and accounted for 47% of the pharmaceutical's sales. Forest Labs reported Namenda sales of $155.6 million in the latest quarter, up 26% for the year before. It is one of the pharmaceutical's two best-selling drugs, the other being the SSRI anti-depressant Lexapro. Yet it also faces potential sales losses, as Lexapro's primary competition, Pfizer's Zoloft, has lost patent protection and cheaper generics will soon be coming to market.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, only methods of slowing its progression. Aricept is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which means that it blocks the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger considered to be critical to memory, thought, and judgment. This is important, since patients with Alzheimer's disease have low levels of acetylcholine. Aricept increases the amount of acetylcholine in the brain, and improves nerve cells' response to it.
Other treatments for mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's include Exelon, which is made by Novartis
While Aricept is a lucrative drug for Eisai, which has patent protection until 2010, generic drug companies are targeting it and challenging the patents in court. Teva Pharmaceuticals
In the interim, Eisai can now seek to solidify its position as the most-prescribed Alzheimer's drug. While the ruling would cover only 20% of the Alzheimer's market and the drug is currently often prescribed along with its competitor, doctors may now be able to make a single prescription instead of two, and that can have a significant impact for both Eisai and the competition.
Don't forget to read these related Foolish articles:
Johnson & Johnson is a recommendation of Motley Fool Income Investor. Pfizer is a recommendation of Motley Fool Inside Value. Regardless of your investing style, The Motley Fool has a newsletter for you. Take a free 30-day tour of the service of your choice.