Having requested priority review when it filed for approval of obeticholic acid in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in September of this year, Intercept could be on track to launch the drug in the US in the spring of 2020. This prospect has led Intercept to start ramping up its preparations for commercialization.
Talking to investors on a third quarter results conference call, Jerry Durso, chief operating officer at Intercept, sketched out the role contract sales staffers are playing, and will continue to play, in the NASH launch.
Durso said, “The first wave of our new disease state contract sales team completed training and began educating specialists last month. We expect to deploy incremental field personnel from a contract sales organization to give us additional reach and flexibility.”
The use of a contract sales force in addition to in-house territory business managers is consistent with the approach Intercept took when it introduced obeticholic acid in the rare autoimmune liver disease primary biliary cholangitis (PBC).
Intercept’s experience of outsourcing work to a contract sales organisation to support the 55 internal in-house territory business managers it hired to sell obeticholic acid in PBC led it to copy the model for the NASH launch.
Mark Pruzanski, CEO of Intercept, explained the reasoning for the split internal-outsourced model.
Pruzanski said, “It's really been a part of our sales force model for a while in PBC that we keep a portion of our overall sales team from a contract group. It gives us some flexibility and some opportunity to pulse when we need to.”
Intercept is yet to say how many contract sales staffers it plans to take on, choosing to defer details of the ramp up and sizing until closer to the launch. Pruzanski did reveal that Intercept plans to add “progressively” to both the contract and internal teams over time, though.
The internal group will bear most of the burden of launching the drug in NASH, leading Intercept to plan to almost triple the size of the 55-strong team it built to sell obeticholic acid in PBC.
Intercept wants the expanded, 150-person sales team to target around 15,000 specialists in the US who treat patients with advanced fibrosis due to NASH. The PBC team already targets around 5,000 of those specialists.