TAP Rushes To Develop Antidote For Prevacid Sales Pain

With sales of its blockbuster heartburn drug dropping rapidly, TAP Pharmaceutical Products Inc. is rushing to develop a product to take its place. Abbott Laboratories of North Chicago, which owns half of the Lake Forest-based joint venture, this week confirmed TAP's plans to develop the next generation of Prevacid. It hopes a new version can help keep control over the lucrative heartburn market. Prevacid is currently listed in at least one industry ranking as the nation's third-best-selling drug in 2004, but its standing is in danger.. Prevacid, a so-called proton pump inhibitor, has been a huge contributor to TAP, generating $3.2 billion in U.S. sales at its peak in 2002, the company said. Through TAP, Prevacid's sales and profits are split between Abbott and Japan's largest drugmaker, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., and are important to both companies. Even though its patent is not set to expire until 2009, there is a huge threat in the marketplace to Prevacid: A cheaper and prominent over-the-counter rival proton pump inhibitor is eating into its market share. In the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, sales of Prevacid plummeted nearly 43 percent to $475 million, in part because of increased competition from over-the-counter Prilosec and other heartburn drugs. TAP said the plunge was an "anomaly, as a wholesaler lowered purchases in the fourth quarter." Because Prevacid is therapeutically equivalent to other proton pump inhibitors, the company's own studies show, health insurance plans are removing it from preferred positions on their drug lists. Health plans are encouraging the use of Prilosec, which sells for less than 80 cents a pill, instead of prescription competitors like Prevacid, which sell for about $4 a pill. In order to hold onto its market share, TAP is looking into selling an improved heartburn drug, Abbott executives said, without disclosing details, in a Tuesday conference call with Wall Street analysts.

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