Drug giant Merck announced Friday that a deal had been signed for production of a generic version of its blockbuster osteoporosis drug Fosamax.
"We can confirm an authorized generic deal for Fosamax has been signed, although specific details of the deal are proprietary," said a Merck spokesman, Ron Rogers.
Fosamax, with the chemical name alendronate, has annual sales of about $3 billion, making it the world's top-selling osteoporosis drug. Now available in a once-weekly formulation, it was the first member of the widely used family of treatments known as bisphosphonates that inhibit cells called osteoclasts, which break down bone tissue, the New York Times reports.
The US patent on the drug expires on Feb.6. Obviously Merck is moving in fast to checkmate other manufacturers lining up to produce the same drug.
An authorized generic is a copycat form of a company's branded medicine that is sold through a licensing agreement, usually with a generic-drug manufacturer. Such deals allow the original seller of a branded drug to hold on to more revenue from the medicine once it loses patent protection and becomes prey to competition from generics.
An authorized generic can significantly hurt sales of rivals waiting to be introduced once a branded drug's patent lapses.
Analysts have said cheaper generics will not only batter sales of Fosamax, but could also hurt another once-weekly bisphosphonate, Actonel, sold by Procter & Gamble and the French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis.
Boniva, a newer bisphosphonate sold by Roche Holding and GlaxoSmithKline, is taken only once a month.
Barr Pharmaceuticals said Friday that it planned to introduce its generic version of the basic 70-milligram form of Fosamax on Feb. 6.