Smoking is the single most preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 440,000 Americans die from smoking-related illness every year, and nearly 20 percent of the 44.6 million adult smokers have at least one serious smoking-related disease. All this adds up to an annual $157 billion in economic losses.
So, even if Pfizer's Chantix (varenicline) did nothing more than help an estimated million or so smokers (so far) break their addiction, it would be a strong contender for Pharmaceutical Executive's Brand of the Year. But, in fact, Pfizer's entire approach to branding the drug is itself worth admiring for several reasons:Medicalizing smoking We live in an anti-tobacco time. Smoking bans are spreading, cigarette taxes are increasing, and health warnings grow more graphic by the day. But in another sense, society has yet to get serious about smoking—it is still generally viewed as a lifestyle choice, even a moral failure. Chantix is promoting a more enlightened, scientific view of smoking as a serious, difficult-to-treat addiction—and spreading the word not only to smokers but also to physicians.
Focusing on the goal Drug companies are traditionally better at selling pills than at coordinating treatments—a fact that has done much to harm the industry's reputation. For Chantix, Pfizer has addressed this issue with an intensive consumer-focused strategy—including a 52-week program of patient education and support intended to maximize success rates.
Narrowing the focus Some of the recent public uproar over drug safety is due to the blockbuster model's focus on expanding the consumer pool. If Vioxx, for example, had been used only by patients with severe arthritis and who had problems tolerating other pain meds, it would probably still be on the market. Pfizer has taken a major step toward pharma's future by trying to limit the use of Chantix to informed, motivated patients—and making information about the drug's limitations not just a disclaimer, but an essential aspect of marketing.