Covidien announced the launch of two branded pain drugs — Exalgo and Pennsaid — and hired around 250 reps to support the products. Professional ads for both products are in the works for May.

Both drugs contain active ingredients that have been on the market for years — hydromorphone and diclofenac — but Covidien licensed in novel delivery mechanisms in order to create two new products that address unmet needs, according to Herb Neuman, chief medical officer and VP of medical affairs at Covidien.  

To educate prescribers on these new offerings, Covidien enlarged nearly every function of its medical affairs department, including the addition of medical science liaisons, a first for the company, said Neuman. JoAnna Schooler, communications director at Covidien, said “a couple hundred” reps would be deployed in support of each product. Direct mail went out to physicians this week, Schooler said. GSW Worldwide worked on the websites and other materials for both brands. 

Exalgo (hydromorphone hydrochloride) shares its active ingredient with Dilaudid, but Exalgo is a 24-hour extended release tablet, the first brand to offer a single dose per day formulation of hydromorphone. Dilaudid dosages may change according to the patient, but it’s typically administered four times a day, said Neuman. The extended-release, osmotic delivery system for Exalgo was developed by Alza Corporation, and commercial rights for Exalgo were licensed from CombinatoRx, a Cambridge, MA-based biopharma, which received a $40 million milestone payment upon the drug’s approval last March. Exalgo is indicated for opioid-tolerant patients suffering from moderate-to-severe chronic pain.

Pennsaid (diclofenac sodium topical solution), Covidien’s second foray into the branded pain drug category, shares an active ingredient with Voltaren gel, but adds a novel penetration enhancer, dimethyl sulfoxide (or DMSO), to the mix. Pennsaid is indicated for osteoarthritis of the knee, and prescribers of Pennsaid are most likely to be primary care physicians and rheumatologists, according to Neuman. Nuvo Research, a Canadian drug development company, developed the transdermal drug delivery mechanism.

Although Exalgo and Pennsaid were both licensed in from other companies, Neuman said Covidien is conducting research and development internally. “We’re really focused on trying to alleviate pain, so we’re open to any avenue that leads to products that help patients with pain, and help clinicians that care for them,” he said.