From The Editor | February 26, 2024

The Good And Bad Of Copromotion

By Ben Comer, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader

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Biogen and Eisai’s codevelopment and copromotion deal in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common type of dementia, is one of the most closely watched collaborations in the industry. Millions of dollars, and millions of patients’ lives are at stake.

Paul Hawthorne, Eisai’s EVP, purpose and chief business officer, recently spoke with Life Science Leader about Leqembi, the second AD drug to emerge from the Biogen/Eisai partnership, and the first to receive full or traditional FDA approval. The first drug to come out of the partnership was Aduhelm, which didn’t end well. A notable difference between Aduhelm and Leqembi, aside from Leqembi’s full approval and Aduhelm’s lack thereof, is that Biogen led the development and commercialization of Aduhelm, while Eisai is in the lead position on Leqembi.

During our conversation, I asked Hawthorne about the pros and cons of codevelopment and copromotion, versus going it alone. Are two minds really better than one? Hawthorne’s responses were interesting and instructive – as were his thoughts about navigating a French company’s culture (Sanofi) compared with a Japanese company’s culture (Eisai) – but were not included in the previous article. Here are a few selected (and lightly edited) responses from Hawthorne on the pros and cons of copromotion, and what essentials are needed to maximize the benefits, and reduce the inefficiencies, of working together.

What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of a copromotion agreement in general?

Paul Hawthorne: When you get two organizations together with very good strategic thinking and intellectual horsepower, then you can really refine your plans in a highly successful way. Two minds sometimes are better than one. You have to take the best out of both parties in a co-promotion. The other side of that, however, is that you need clear and delineated decision-making. If you don’t have that, then two minds can complicate things really quickly. We have a strong relationship with Biogen, and we have good communication and planning across both organizations. We talk quite often, and I think we’re getting the most out of both organizations in terms of our strategic thinking and planning. Those are positive aspects of copromotion. Thinking about copromotion broadly, things can slow down if you have a tremendous amount of bureaucracy, and if you don’t have good ways of working, and companies don’t have efficient and effective protocols for getting things done. That can slow things down, but you have to work through it. When you do the work, you can reap big advantages; you can reduce overall risk for both organizations and share on the upside, and achieve significantly more if you get it right.

Is it always better to share commercialization activities for a drug in a large indication? Or are there specific criteria, such as drug type or therapeutic area considerations, that effectively tip the scales toward or away from copromotion?  

PH: Let’s take the Leqembi launch as an example. We have a copromotion agreement with Biogen, with Eisai leading the Leqembi launch. In some situations, you need clear, streamlined activities at launch. At specific stages of the launch, you want to have one voice to the customer, and I think that’s an appropriate way to go. In other launches, you’ve got to be able to get two organizations to reach a broad set of customers, or you have different organizations that have complimentary capabilities. Leaders may want to consider different approaches, on a case-by-case basis, but unfortunately there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to copromotion.

At Eisai, copromotion agreements are in our DNA, and we’ve done a lot of them over time. Looking back at Alzheimer’s disease, Eisai came to the U.S. market through a copromotion agreement with Pfizer on Aricept. A lot of people thought that Aricept was Pfizer’s product, but it was developed by Eisai. That copromotion with Pfizer really helped to put Aricept on the map during that time. Ultimately, copromotion agreements are case-dependent and should be based on a drug’s – and the company’s – unique variables.