Another Tiny Blue Pill Hits the Small Blue Screen

Apr 01, 2002

By now, television viewers have probably seen the debut of Schering-Plough's "Pinball Wizard"-inspired broadcast campaign for Clarinex (desloratadine), its new nonsedating antihistamine. In the background, strains from The Who's "Tommy" rock opera provide drama for a space-age depiction of the miserable world of allergy sufferers, replete with plants in full bloom and a crowd of sneezy snifflers.

That TV commercial is part of a larger direct-to-consumer (DTC) campaign that includes print and online media, designed to inform allergy sufferers about allergic rhinitis and the year-round versus seasonal allergy indication of its newest treatment option, Clarinex.

Except to say that Clari-nex's February 2002 launch was "extremely successful" and that it "surpassed similar launches," S-P spokesperson Bill O'Donnell wouldn't comment specifically on the product's marketing budget. Data from IMS Health suggests that the company may be spending at or near levels for its predecessor, Claritin (loratadine). DTC spending figures for first quarter 2002 aren't available yet, but S-P spent $10.7 million on detailing and $42,000 on medical journal advertising in January 2002 alone.

Although Clarinex is the allergy/respiratory category's newest entry, it is by no means the only news to come out of that active market. In fact, S-P is still making headlines over the upcoming patent expiry of its flagship Claritin product line and its plans for an over-the-counter switch. And the industry is still reeling from the controversy surrounding last May's widely publicized FDA advisory committee debate about the mandatory OTC switch of Claritin and its main competitors-Aventis' Allegra (fexofenadine) and Pfizer's Zyrtec (cetirizine). Since then, all three companies have struggled to make the case to managed care and other payers-instigators of the FDA hearing-that their more expensive brands are superior to OTC products and worth their prices.

S-P has some challenges ahead; not only must it face competition from generic prescription products, it must convince patients currently taking Claritin to switch to Clarinex. It also has to execute the OTC launch of Claritin, which it plans to do after it loses patent exclusivity in December 2002.

Otherwise, the company's financial performance may falter in the short term, says Kenneth Nover, a healthcare analyst and vice-president of securities research at A.G. Edwards. In a report dated 28 February 2002, he writes: "We do not see many positive catalysts occurring in the next six months and continue to believe that the Clarinex switchover rate will disappoint the market."

Nevertheless, he predicts that Clarinex sales in the United States will more than double, from an estimated $435 million in 2002 to $950 million 2003. From the looks of Nover's first quarter 2002 estimates, the lion's share of sales will be in the United States; $50 million versus $18 million in the international market.

The high-visibility "Clarinex Has Arrived" campaign will certainly keep the Clarinex brand in the spotlight for a while as analysts' and media predictions play out in the marketplace.

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