Alkermes touts equal efficacy of monthly Vivitrol against daily Suboxone

A new study comparing two of the main drugs treating opioid addiction found that the medicines worked similarly in helping patients quit heroin and other opioids.

That’s interesting news considering the branding battle between the two drug makers, whose fierce (and sometimes ugly) competition has drawn the attention of politicians and reporters at The New York Times.

Craig Hopkinson

The new study, published in The Lancet, compared Indivior’s drug Suboxone with Alkermes’ Vivitrol in an experiment with 570 adults.

Suboxone is the old timer of the two, more widely used and studied than its newer competitor. The drug is taken daily in strips that dissolve on the tongue, containing a mild opioid that helps stymie withdrawal.

Vivitrol is the newer drug, taken as a monthly shot that blocks the effect of opioids. Alkermes’ main branding message is that Vivitrol is cleaner, containing no opioids. Alkermes has been the target of criticism, however, for its sales and marketing tactics. Most recently, California Senator Kamala Harris accused the company of launching a campaign that caused the system to overlook “cheaper and more thoroughly studied treatments” that have been “stigmatized and marginalized.”

The new study provides some fodder for further comparison. Researchers of the study found that 52% of those who used Vivitrol relapsed during the 24-week study, while 56% of patients on Suboxone relapsed.

There’s one thing to note, however. Vivitrol requires that patients be fully detoxed from opioids, which can take a week or more. As a result of that hurdle, more than a quarter of the patients in the study dropped out before taking their first dose of Vivitrol.

Alkermes said that was further proof that the detoxing process had to be addressed.

“This study highlights the importance of detoxification for initiating treatment with Vivitrol,” said Craig Hopkinson, CMO and SVP of clinical development and medical affairs at Alkermes. “Alkermes is working alongside prominent researchers in the field to determine effective, safe and efficient detoxification strategies for successful induction onto Vivitrol, in order to help health care providers manage their patients through this critical transition period.”

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Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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