Is This Improved Blockbuster Still Running Out of Time?

Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYS: TEVA) is trying to help multiple sclerosis patients by cutting the number of injections to three-sevenths the current requirement.

Rather than taking a daily injection of Copaxone, it appears that a larger dose taken only three times a week provides a 34.4% reduction in the annual relapse rate compared to placebo. That's 156 annual injections versus 365 injections with the current dosing schedule.

The only problem with that math is that 156 injections are still 156 injections more than patients have to take with newer oral medications.

Novartis (NYS: NVS) has the only approved oral medication, Gilenya, designed to slow the progression of the disease, but there are others in the works, including Biogen Idec's (NAS: BIIB) BG-12 and Sanofi's teriflunomide.

If you're just looking at the convenience factor, injections three times a week could still be less convenient than taking Biogen and Elan's (NYS: ELN) Tysabri, which is infused once a month, depending on how easy it is to get to the infusion center. Some patients prefer not to have to think about taking their medication daily or thrice weekly.

Of course, no doctor should prescribe a drug based on convenience alone. Efficacy and safety and, most importantly, a doctor's comfort level with them are crucial for garnering prescriptions. And that's where Teva might be able to hold on to many of its patients, at least until doctors get a better feeling for the oral medications.

If you assume that all the older medications have the same advantage and they aren't going away anytime soon, then moving from seven injections to three injections could help Copaxone capture patients that were on Biogen's Avonex, Bayer's Betaseron, or Rebif that's marketed by Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) and Merck KgaA.

This trial isn't going to make Copaxone's sales suddenly skyrocket, but it should help Teva capture, or at least not lose, enough of the multiple sclerosis market as competition heats up to justify the cost of the trial.

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