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Pharmaceutical Company Crosses Fingers Cure for Drinking Is Drugs

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Alcoholics may soon be able to drink as much as they want, if a new drug Danish pharma Lundbeck hopes to release in 2012 works as planned.

Nalmefene, yet another drug that works by blocking opioid receptors, will theoretically keep the amount alcoholics want to drink down to a manageable level.

“We’re not talking about the people on the bench in the park,” Anders Gersel Pedersen, executive vice president of drug development at Lundbeck, told Bloomberg. “We’re talking perhaps about people working in this building here.”

People working in this building here won’t have to rely on will power or miss out on the party -- Lundbeck expects patients to use the drug in social situations; for example, before taking the first drink at a party.

Of course, folks who’ve successfully quit drinking could also use nalmefene to start up again, a Lundbeck spokesman admitted to Bloomberg.

The drug’s advocates say more alcoholics may seek treatment if they don’t have to contend with total abstinence; still, it’s far from clear that seeking treatment will lead to a cure.

Marvin D. Seppala, chief medical officer of alcohol treatment center Hazelden, said the similarly acting drug naltrexone didn’t help his patients drink less -- and these were people in a monitored treatment program.

Other anti-alcoholism drugs on the market -- Antabuse, which triggers the monster of all hangovers after one drink, and Campral, which lessens the anxiety and sleeplessness people feel when they used to drink and don’t anymore -- are meant to prevent relapses in people who’ve successfully completed treatment.

Nalmefene, which has a longer half-life than naltrexone, would be the first prescribed as a treatment in itself. Over time, it lessens the craving for alcohol, according to an addiction specialist involved in the drug trials.

Market analyst Peter Welford estimates nalmefene’s peak sales will come in at $60 million a year, in 2018. Lundbeck will pay twice that amount to the drug’s original developer, Biotie Therapies Corp., if the drug passes trials and meets sales goals. “The market remains an untapped gold mine,” Welford told Bloomberg.

It’s not like Lundbeck has an open field, though. Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson are testing their own versions of drugs to treat alcoholism.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.