Manufacturing in support of marketing

Manufacturing isn’t normally thought of as a strategic function within pharmaceutical companies, even though it has a real potential to serve a strategic role. I’ve written before about the tax advantages generated by a well-configured and managed manufacturing network. There are also some potential marketing advantages in the interaction between development and manufacturing.

A good example is described in today’s Wall Street Journal. A reader who has heard conflicting answers from other sources asks columnist Tara Parker-Pope about whether it is ok to split migraine drug Imitrex. Some insurers advocate that consumers split pills in order to save money. Usually different doses of the same drug are sold for about the same price even though they contain different amounts of medication. When consumers split a large pill in half rather than taking two smaller ones, it cuts pharma company revenue.

The role of the drug maker in discouraging pill splitting is to add enough value to the whole pill to make it unwise to split, and to make the pill physically difficult to split. In the case of Imitrex the maker, GlaxoSmithKline is pursuing both strategies. The drug is coated to easily absorb water, which allows it to be released more quickly into the bloodstream –each pill is contained in its own moisture free pack so the absorption process doesn’t start too soon. Once the pack is opened the pill is exposed to moisture –even more so if the pill is split and left exposed to moisture in the air. In addition, the pill is not scored, so it’s hard to cut exactly in half and get the proper dosage. Other products take this strategy a bit further, with time release mechanisms that don’t work if the pill is broken or by being so hard that they can’t be cut at all with normal tools. It’s a challenge to add enough value to discourage pill splitting, and Imitrex has not fully succeeded. A study in the journal Headache said it was safe to split Imitrex and recommended doing so to save money.

December 6, 2005

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