By Dania Nadeem

(Reuters) – Neurocrine Biosciences Inc said on Monday its add-on treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease received U.S. approval, but the launch will be delayed until later this year because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the virus outbreak prompts social distancing and forces hospitals to cancel unnecessary visits, including from drug sales personnel, operations of pharmaceutical companies are getting disrupted, including launches.

“This is not an appropriate time to launch the drug into the neurology community,” Neurocrine Chief Executive Officer Kevin Gorman told Reuters ahead of the announcement of the drug’s approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A month’s supply of the drug, Ongentys, would have a list price below $670 – around the range of other similar drugs in the market, Gorman said, adding it was working with its partner, Portugal-based BIAL Portela & Ca SA to supply the drug.

Ongentys helps prolong the effect of levodopa, the standard of care drug for Parkinson’s.

Most patients are treated with levodopa, earlier sold by Merck & Co under the name, Sinemet. However, as the disease progresses, the drug’s effectiveness wears off and patients begin to experience issues with their movement.

The generic drug entacapone is another treatment used along with levodopa, and also faces competition from other drugs.

Some drugs similar to Ongentys come with severe side effects, according to Neurocrine, which is hoping to reach around 500,000 to 750,000 patients who are already on levodopa.

Citi analyst Neena Bitritto-Garg expects peak sales from the drug to reach $300 million in the United States.

Ongentys, chemically known as opicapone, belongs to a class of drugs which works by blocking an enzyme that breaks down levodopa in the body, helping extend the duration of its effect.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem, Saumya Sibi Joseph and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Anil D’Silva and Shinjini Ganguli)