Skyepharma to unveil US drug marketing deals

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The Independent Online
SkyePharma, the young drug delivery company headed by Ian Gowrie-Smith who founded Medeva, will today announce a clutch of deals in the US designed to boost the group's long-term prospects.

Brightstone Pharma, the company's US marketing division, has filed its non-branded drug, Iopamidol, with the US drug regulator. Iopamidol is an imaging agent for diagnosing diseases such as heart and lung conditions.

The deal, which is Brightstone's fourth filing with the regulator this year, will offer cost-conscious healthcare groups in the US an effective but cheaper alternative to the branded version, Isovue - a blockbuster drug which made sales last year of $360m (pounds 216m).

"This is a competitive area, but a potentially big product for SkyePharma," said one analyst.

In an unusual move for a small generic company, Brightstone will also announce today that it has forged a pilot agreement with Alagap Data Systems, one of the US's 10 biggest pharmacy benefit managers, which will give Brightstone's drugs preferred status in high street pharmacies.

Analysts said that the deals, which also include a co-marketing agreement with US group PolyMedica for an anaesthetic used in kidney and waterworks procedures, showed that SkyePharma was delivering on its promises made at flotation.

Kevin Wilson from Salomon Brothers said: "This is a cautious company making excellent progress. There are none of the fireworks some expected with a Gowrie-Smith group, and that will take investors time to get used to."

SkyePharma's share price, currently 87p, has been disappointing, hovering between 65p and 88p over the last year.

Analysts said that Brightstone's link up with a pharmaceutical benefit manager (PBM) would be very positive in the long term. PBMs purchase huge volumes of drugs on behalf of health management organisations, which organise low-cost healthcare plans for US employers.

The job of PBMs is to supply a selection of generic drugs to chemists, who are then obliged by law to substitute them for the more expensive brands.

"Getting on a preferred list of a PBM simply means you sell more drugs," said one analyst. "Generic companies are falling over themselves to get preferred status."

Though the deal with Alagap is limited to 40 drug stores initially, Alagap supplies drugs to over 18,000 drug stores in total. This will prove important when Brightstone's bigger products start to come through.

Its big hope is that using SkyePharma's drug delivery arm Jago, bought last year, the company can develop a generic version of Pfizer's angina drug Procardia XL, a billion-dollar product which, so far, no generic company has successfully copied.