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Acorda Pushes Sales of MS Drug

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The company works to boost sales of Ampyra, a drug that helps multiple sclerosis patients walk. After a fast start last year, the drug's revenue plateaued.

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The launch of Acorda Therapeutics' (ACOR) multiple sclerosis drug Ampyra exceeded expectations in 2010. But when sales declined earlier this year, some investors bailed.

There is fear that the product's revenue peaked after Acorda reported that first-quarter sales of the drug fell 10% from the fourth quarter to $46.8 million.

The drug did indeed have a faster than expected start but there's still room to grow, says CEO Ron Cohen, who is taking steps to pump up interest in Ampyra. He expects Ampyra sales of as much as $230 million this year compared with $133 million last year. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in January of last year and hit the U.S. market two months later.

"By the end of December, 40,000 patients tried the drug -- that's more than 10% of the MS population," Cohen says. "Naturally, you can't sustain that level."

Ampyra helps MS patients with a walking disability, a common symptom of the disease. Cohen is focused on reaching out to doctors to convince them of the drugs benefits and help them with insurance reimbursement issues related to the $13,800-a-year drug.

Acorda is touting the use of the drug for patients who are in the early stages of impaired walking. The company also began a pilot program that provides some patients with a couple of months of the drug at no cost. It also helps some patients with their insurance co-pays.

Two other catalysts have helped Acorda' stock in recent months. Last month, a panel of European medical advisers recommended EU officials approve the company's drug after initially issuing a negative opinion. (See Minyanville Acorda Stock Rises on European Surprise) Acorda is partnered with Biogen Idec (BIIB) to sell the treatment (to be called Fampyra in the EU). A final EU decision on the drug may come by the end of July.

In recent weeks, the stock rallied on speculation that Biogen will buy Acorda. Cohen won't comment directly on specific rumors and gives a vague answer on the broader question of selling out.

"Our interest is growing a successful company," he says. "Our goal is to become a valuable company in the neurology space. That doesn't mean we can't be bought. When you're a public company your stock is for sale every day."

Shares of Acorda rose almost 50% in the past three months. In Tuesday morning trading they rose less than 1% to $32.56. But the recent gain followed ups and downs in the stock the preceding months. The stock is only up 1% over the past year.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Michael Yee sees upside to the stock and recommends buying it with a price target of $38. He sees even more upside if the company is acquired. But Yee bases his target on Acorda building sales of Ampyra and he predicts a turnaround in the second half of this year.

Cohen is thinking of other ways to boost sales short term -- specifically, with a drug acquisition. Acorda had $225 million in cash and marketable securities at the end of March. Cohen would like to use some of that cash to buy another company's already approved drug to give his sales people another product to market to doctors.

"We are looking aggressively," he says.
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