Teva Workers in Negev Strike, Protest Higher Pay in Center

Meanwhile, flagship drug Copaxone may face new competition, from new injectable MS drug Lemtrada.

Workers at the Teva-Tech plant in the Negev went on strike Sunday morning in protest against their pay and work conditions. The workers have been demonstrating by the gates of the facility, located in Ramat Hovav, which belongs to Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

"Workers at Teva-Tech, a dangerous chemical plant, are paid starvation wages," said Meir Babayof, Negev district chairman of the Histradrut labor federation, adding that the workers were prepared for a lengthy strike.

The Teva-Tech plant produces the raw material for Copaxone, Teva's proprietary drug for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. The drug itself is made at Teva's plant in Kfar Sava. Copaxone is responsible for more than Teva's profits.

The people at Teva-Tech claim that 60 percent of them earn the minimum wage, despite working shifts on Saturdays and holidays as well.

"Teva's management decided not to conduct negotiations over a new collective agreement with the plant's 1,100 workers and is presenting an identical offer to all the company's plants: a 5% raise over five years," claimed Avraham Zohar, chairman of the plant's local union.

But by doing so, he said, management is perpetuating wage gaps between Israel's center and the periphery, Zohar said.

"The average wage in the center is NIS 13,000 while in the south it's NIS 4,500. In essence, management is willing to give central region residents a pay increase of more than NIS 3,000 under the agreement, while the workers employed at plants in the periphery have to make do with a raise of NIS 400," Zohar said. "We won't have any part in perpetuating the gaps at Teva. We can't survive one more year on this salary."

Teva has yet to issue an official response.

Meanwhile, expanding in Croatia

Last week Teva announced 5,000 layoffs worldwide, triggering a public outcry in Israel. Meanwhile, Pliva - a Croatian pharmaceutical company that Teva acquired in 2008 - has announced it will be expanding.

Pliva has inaugurated a factory in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, that will employ 200 people and increase the firm's production capacity by 25 percent, allowing it to manufacture two billion more tablets and capsules per year. Pliva said it will be investing an additional 15 million euros in a factory for sterile products.

The expansion in Croatia comes as Teva cuts other expenses because Copaxone, which is administered by injection, has been losing market share to rival drugs administered in pill form. Patients generally prefer pills to injections.

The latest three MS treatments to win FDA approval - Novartis’ Gilenya, Sanofi’s Aubagio and Biogen Ivec’s Tecfidera – are ingested orally, in pill form.

Late last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that its advisory committee will meet November 13 to discuss a request by the Paris-based multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi to approve its multiple sclerosis drug, Lemtrada - which like Copaxone is administered by injection. The FDA will announce its decision by December.

Lemtrada’s makers say multiple sclerosis patients need to inject the drug just eight times over two years to constrain deterioration caused by the disease, which affects the brain and spinal cord, and reduce the number of flare-ups. The other treatments need to be taken for the rest of the patient’s life.

Teva can be expected to feel the effects of Lemtrada even before FDA approval, since the treatment has been available since the beginning of the month in Germany, one of Copaxone’s primary markets in Europe.

Sanofi has set the cost of a single injection of Lemtrada at 8,645 euros ($11,770), with the total cost of Lemtrada treatment coming to $95,000, compared with $32,000 a year for Gilenya and $39,000 for Biogen’s Tysabri, which is given by intravenous injection. Costs are 35 percent to 55 percent higher in the United States.

Ardon Bar Hama