Boehringer Ingelheim Korea is taking a seemingly hands-off approach for its non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulant (NOAC) therapy Pradaxa in Korea, and “focusing on other therapy areas,” a company official said Thursday.
Boehringer said it would allow Boryung Pharmaceuticals to market and sell Pradaxa in the local market, instead of doing so independently, in December. The decision has led industry insiders to speculate that the company is decreasing investment in the NOAC market due to increased competition from existing therapies and the onset of new copycat drugs.
Pradaxa first gained the health regulator’s approval in 2011 and was the first NOAC to win an indication for non-valvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) patients in Korea. But despite gaining a head start, Pradaxa failed to maintain a lead due to late entrants such as J&J-Bayer’s Xarelto, Pfizer’s Eliquis, and Daiichi Sankyo’s Lixiana rapidly gaining market share.
|Boehringer has halted marketing and sales activities for Pradaxa as competition in NOAC market intensifies.|
As of November, local statistics showed Pradaxa prescriptions fell behind Lixiana’s by 320 million won ($299,000) with 1.63 billion won ($1.52 million) in sales - a surprising setback considering Daiichi Sankyo entered the market in 2016. Lixiana also marked the most explosive year-on-year sales growth out of the four NOACs - recording a 600 percent sales increase in 2017.
Boehringer also faces new challenges in Korea with domestic pharmaceutical companies such as Hanmi Pharmaceutical, Ahngook Pharmaceutical, Dasan Medichem, and Huons continually developing incrementally modified NOAC drugs, otherwise known as “me-too” drugs.
■ Related : Drugmakers work on ‘me-too’ drugs of Pradaxa
In December, Boehringer announced it would dissolve its cardiovascular unit sales force. The company asked for “volunteers” who would leave the company with compensation under its “Early Retirement Program” (ERP). The company’s labor union protested the ERP claiming the company violated collective bargaining rules.
Then in January, the German pharmaceutical firm signed a co-promotion agreement with Boryung Pharmaceuticals. Yuhan Corporation had previously co-promoted Pradaxa and hypertension drug Twynsta since 2012, until Yuhan started backing off all sales activities of Pradaxa, switching over to solely maintaining the wholesale distribution system last year.
To help employees leaving the company get a new job, Boehringer offered to help those interested in working at Boryung by helping them through the job application process. Around ten people from the circulatory division, including those from the Pradaxa division, are reported to have left the company through the program. Most of those that left moved over to Boryung Pharmaceuticals but a Boehringer official stated the company does not know how many people have transferred over to Boryung.
Meanwhile, all events are indicating that Boryung is in actuality taking sole charge of Pradaxa sales in Korea. Whereas competitors such as Bayer Korea, Pfizer-BMS Korea, Daiichi-Sankyo Korea are strengthening its sales marketing, Boehringer Ingelheim seems to have taken a step back.
Industry insiders have since speculated that the pharmaceutical firm is turning away only from the NOAC market, indicated by the fact that Yuhan is still marketing Twynsta. Boehringer had denied the rumors.
“We decided to conduct [Pradaxa] sales activities through our partner Boryung because Boehringer has other therapies aside from cardiovascular ones. We want to focus on other units such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and oncology,” he said.
All speculation aside, the Korean branch of Boehringer-Ingelheim noted that Pradaxa is the first NOAC to enter the market and the only such therapy that has a reversal agent that counteracts possibly fatal uncontrolled bleeding - citing high hopes for positive results from the partnership with Boryung.