"My intuition says Teva will get out of this"

Prof. Michael Sela  photo: Eyal Izhar
Prof. Michael Sela photo: Eyal Izhar

Copaxone co-inventor Prof. Michael Sela talks to 'Globes" about what makes it a special drug.

"My intuition tells me that Teva will extricate itself," Professor Michael Sela, who, together with Ruth Arnon and Deborah Teitelbaum, developed Teva's blockbuster multiple sclerosis treatment Copaxone at the Weizmann Institute, told "Globes" yesterday.

It was Sela's close friendship with the late Eli Hurvitz, Teva's legendary CEO, that brought Copaxone to Teva and made the company what it is today. Former Teva CFO, and currently a director of the company, Dan Suesskind has related in the past how Sela spoke to Hurvitz about a potential drug, COP-1, which eventually became Copaxone. "Fortunately, Teva was allowed to look at the drug file for just $50,000. Who knows, maybe if thrifty Eli had been offered the file for $500,000, Copaxone would never have seen the light of day," Suesskind said.

Professor Sela, when Teva was first launched in the US in 1996, did you think it would survive so many years without generic competition?

"Frankly, I never thought about it. I knew at the time that 28 years went by from the moment that the idea occurred to me to the moment that the FDA approved the drug, and I'm happy that to this day it is probably the safest drug. Today, there are drugs that can be taken in tablet form, very cheap drugs and very good ones, but each has resulted in some bad cases, although I don't follow that closely. Copaxone is fine from that point of view. If it's made properly, it has a good chance of helping, not as a cure, as a treatment, but a successful treatment. A person who takes Copaxone over a period of years does not suffer from an attack of the disease."

In your view, can Mylan produce a generic Copaxone identical to that of Teva? Teva has always claimed that Copaxone is a complicated drug to copy.

"It's very complicated to copy, but I have no right to comment on how another company makes it. I don't know to what extent it's similar to the Copaxone we developed, but they must have checked carefully that it gives similar results. It's difficult, because it's not a case of a small molecule for which you can determine its weight and composition, but of long chains of polymers. In a batch of Copaxone, no two molecules are identical in size and composition, even at the scale of the building blocks. This is the reason that it took such a long time to approve marketing of a generic version."

Sela says that although there are cases in which polymers are used to bring about delayed release of a drug in the body, in the case of Copaxone the polymer is not a retardant, but the active part of the drug. In fact, generic Copaxone is the first drug to be approved in which the polymeric material is the active pharmaceutical ingredient.

Do you still follow Teva?

"I read the newspaper. Certainly I follow events there. My base is the Weizmann Institute - I have worked at the Institute for 68 years now - I'm 93, going on 94. But Teva is also precious to me, and my intuition tells me that in the end Teva will get out of the woods. Despite all the objective difficulties, I have a feeling that Teva will surmount them, but it's hard. Many things have been done that were not so right."

Such as?

"Out of fear, stemming from the fact that they knew that Copaxone sales would fall, and out of an overwhelming desire to find something that would sell well, they bought several companies at huge numbers, which, with the wisdom of hindsight, turns out to have been a waste. But I say this on the basis of what I read in the newspapers, I have no direct contact with Teva."

You've had no contact with Teva since Eli Hurvitz died?

"I'm in touch with Eli's widow Dalia. We're good friends, and we see each other regularly. I have no contact with Teva itself. I have not been a director of the company for many years. But Teva is dear to me. Things don't just happen. It's all about being adventurous. If you aren't an adventurer, you don’t get anywhere. All my immunology, and Copaxone too, was an adventure. So I think that Teva will yet overcome and will get out of this."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 9, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

Prof. Michael Sela  photo: Eyal Izhar
Prof. Michael Sela photo: Eyal Izhar
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