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Abbott makes splash with Humira. (RX/News).

ABBOTT PARK, Ill. -- Abbott Laboratories is providing Medicare-eligible senior citizens with free access to Humira, its new rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug, until a Medicare drug benefit is enacted.

The product, approved December 31 by the Food and Drug Administration, is competing with two rival treatments that are aimed at the estimated 2 million rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Wall Street analysts believe the new products--which have been demonstrated to slow progression of the debilitating disease rather than just alleviate its pain -- have a market that could approach $10 billion annually. Revenues for Humira (which is typically injected every other week) could hit $1 billion or more within five years.

"This is the biggest pharmaceutical launch in the company's history," asserts Miles White, chairman and chief executive officer of Abbott.

The drug was actually acquired by Abbott two years ago when Humira was in its initial stages of development by Knoll Pharmaceuticals. Abbott purchased Knoll from BASF AG for $6.9 billion.

"Humira is an example of the positive impact pharmaceutical innovation can have for people living with chronic and debilitating conditions like RA," comments White.

"To reinforce Abbott's commitment to providing access to our medications we're initiating the Humira Medicare Assistance Program to help remove barriers to this important new medicine for seniors with RA."

Abbott's announcement has received widespread applause.

"We always encourage companies to give seniors in need access to FDA-approved drugs like Abbott is doing with this new program," comments Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

(Separately, Thompson last month announced the release of a comprehensive research plan from the National Institutes of Health to fight RA and other autoimmune diseases. The plan will foster research to identify genetic, environmental and infectious causes of autoimmune diseases and to develop new treatments and prevention strategies.)

Sen. John Breaux (D., La.) says that programs like the one announced by Abbott are "good short-term solutions" to improve access to newer treatments.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson is boosting its sales operation to maintain its market-leading role for Remicade, an RA treatment that has been available since 1999. Analysts anticipate that its 2003 sales will surpass $1.5 billion.

Separately, Amgen Corp. has won FDA approval to expand production capacity for Enbrel, its RA drug. The four-year-old treatment was purchased by the biotech company last year as part of its $9 billion acquisition of Immunex Corp., another biotech company.

Humira and Remicade are known as monoclonal antibodies and have been hailed as "smart bombs" because of their ability to attack diseases directly. Enbrel, self-administered twice a week, is a copy of a protein found in the body that regulates the immune system.

Unlike its competitors, Remicade (developed by J&J's Centocor Inc. subsidiary) is covered by Medicare, one of the few drugs subject to compensation by the program, since it is administered in a physician's office. The drug requires a trip to the doctor's office about every eight weeks for intravenous treatment.

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Title Annotation:Abbott Laboratories to provide free rheumatoid arthritis drug for Medicare-eligible seniors
Comment:Abbott makes splash with Humira. (RX/News).(Abbott Laboratories to provide free rheumatoid arthritis drug for Medicare-eligible seniors)
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 17, 2003
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