Jeremy Thorpe, managing director of Tillotts Pharma UK (Tillotts), tells us how his company has entered the UK and grown from strength to strength over the past six years, overcoming numerous challenges to establish Tillotts’ significant presence in the GI market

GI-specialist Tillotts has seen some remarkable success in the past five years – following re-entry to the UK market in 2011 with a branded generic mesalazine – Octasa. Two major branded generic companies have both tried and failed with their branded generic mesalazines, so what did Tillotts do differently?

Tillotts’ sole focus is the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, and such a focused product portfolio is one of its key strengths. “It gives us a very deep insight into our market because 100% of our activity is in one niche area of a relatively small medical discipline. This gives us the opportunity to specialise, and develop a really deep understanding of both our customers’ needs and the needs of the patients. Unlike many diseases, most GI conditions don’t kill you, but they can ruin your life with frequent debilitating periods of illness. One of the things we have really focused in on is how we can minimise those periods of illness and maximise the wellbeing of the patient,” expresses Jeremy Thorpe.

These strengths helped the company hit the ground running when it entered the UK market with Octasa. Tillotts launched an extensive promotional campaign with Octasa focusing on clinicians in secondary care to help them understand that Octasa could be used as a less expensive alternative to branded mesalazine whilst having a therapeutically equivalent pharmaceutical profile. Jeremy Thorpe comments: “The other firms tried and failed to bring a branded generic into this market focusing only on primary care decision makers – this is the key learning – when promoting a medication for less common diseases where treatment decisions are led by clinicians in secondary care, attention needs to focus on including secondary care in the decision to change medication. This can be very challenging when the main financial beneficiary is primary care, and not secondary care. We frequently found that tensions existed between primary care organisations and secondary care providers. These tensions stopped either party from seeing the bigger picture.”

After that, Tillotts focused on providing HCPs with pharmaceutical evidence comparing Octasa to the branded drug as well as demonstrating its cost savings. The company also produced materials that could assist HCPs to reassure their patients when switching and to highlight the saving to the NHS.

When Octasa was first launched the BNF advised that mesalazines should not be considered interchangeable, and this discouraged clinicians from changing brands, despite the evidence that Octasa and its target brand had very similar profiles. It wasn’t until the Cochrane Society published a review of mesalazine in 2013 that the BNF could be persuaded to reconsider its advice. When the BNF changed its advice, taking into consideration the Cochrane reviews, resistance to changing brands started to decline and use of Octasa began to pick up momentum.

The campaign was a success and Tillotts have gone from strength to strength in its market share: sales of Octasa rose from £230,000 in 2012 to £4.75 million in 2013, and last year topped £21 million. Octasa is now the highest-volume selling mesalazine tablet in the UK.

Thorpe says he’d love to apply similar strategies to other products as the company continues to grow in the UK.

“I’d love to acquire, in-license, or even co-promote other GI products. I am very keen to talk to companies that have a GI product and need to break into the market or bring about change in the way a GI disease is treated. A GI product might not justify investment if your firm’s focus is somewhere else, but in Tillotts’ portfolio it would be supported because we specialise only in GI. For example in 2015 we acquired Entocort (budesonide) from AstraZeneca, and we’ve been able to breathe life back into the product and get new indications.”

This is a very exciting time for Tillotts and proof that relaunching existing medicines into established markets can be just as rewarding as launching a completely new chemical entity.