Insider Profile: Life After Prilosec

Mar 01, 2002

David Brennan
AstraZeneca and its purple pill entered the public's consciousness with a multibillion dollar advertising campaign and helped it take leadership in the gastrointestinal market. Now, the company is using Prilosec's (omeprazole) patent expiry and several new executive appointments to transform itself into a more diversified marketing giant. CEO Tom McKillop, US president and CEO David Brennan, and US vice-president of sales Michael Hickey talked with PE about the company's developing marketing presence in the United States and on the world stage.

PE: What marketing lessons did Prilosec drive home and teach AstraZeneca? Brennan: We learned to take advantage of opportunities created by larger brands and to explore different ways of creating value in the marketplace. We use traditional advertising and promotion, but we also experiment with new ideas such as electronic promotion, couponing, sampling mechanisms, or contacting physicians online in addition to office visits.

Tom McKillop
Learning and knowing the market gives you a certain feel for the texture of the cloth, so to speak. Having been in the GI market with Prilosec for more than ten years, we have an appreciation for the market's receptiveness to product messages and the promotional elements it values. We've applied that to Nexium's (esomeprazole) DTC campaign, which is already a documented success with more than 900,000 consumer initiated doctor discussions.

Michael Hickey
PE: What other products will be promoted with marketing muscle? McKillop: We have five key products in which we're driving growth: adjuvant breast cancer therapy Arimidex (anastrozole), prostate cancer drug Casodex (bicalutamide), Atacand (candesartan) for hypertension, migraine medicine Zomig (zolmi-triptan), and Seroquel (quetiapine), an antipsychotic. We will launch Iressa (ZD 1839) for non- small-cell lung cancer and Faslodex (fulvestrant) for breast cancer this year in the United States as well as the superstatin Crestor (rosuvastatin), which has an extremely competitive profile. We expect it to become the gold standard in the cholesterol market. Right now, we are working with more than 1,000 opinion leaders from around the world and educating physicians about the product, so we expect an expedient uptake of Crestor at launch.

PE: What's your sales strategy for the upcoming product launches? Hickey: Building our own core competency. We hired 2,200 sales people late last year, and now we're developing a standard training program for our sales reps and managers, with a new emphasis on leadership. The reps work out of eight centers across the United States, so we need strong managers to implement that decentralized sales system, which started in 2001.

Brennan: That system allows us to customize selling to the individual needs of doctors and pharmacists in various areas. It also enables better patient education-good pharmaceutical companies should always be in that business. If our reps in Chi-cago need Spanish-language literature, they don't have to call a copywriter in Wilmington, Delaware to get it. We can print patient aids right in Chicago, get them medically and legally approved, and deliver them to the patients.

PE: Are you making the same investments in your global sales forces? McKillop: We hired more than 800 reps in Europe to handle several product launches, including Nexium and asthma treatment Symbicort (budesonide), which is doing fabulously well and winning market share there. That process will continue as we restructure our portfolio and prepare for more major launches next year.

We are the second fastest growing pharma company in Japan behind Pfizer, and we expect strong, double-digit growth to continue as it has for the last eight years, even though the Japanese market itself isn't very strong. Because it has become easier to recruit top quality college graduates to work for foreign-based companies, our sales force in Japan increased from fewer than 900 reps to more than 1,500.

Brennan: We're not just going to win by having the most people in the marketplace. We've started to invest in e-oriented programs, such as iPhysicanNet, ePocrates, e-clinical recruiting, and online CME programs with the University of Texas.

Hickey: But those initiatives will complement, rather than substitute for, our core commercial detailing strategy.

PE: What promotional activities are underway for 2002? Brennan: We increased our advertising and promotional spend in areas where we were below the levels of some of our competitors. Prilosec was the market's leading proton pump inhibitor, but it didn't have the leading share of voice in reaching customers. So we significantly stepped up DTC advertising for Nexium. With Crestor expected to come to market shortly, we are engaged in prelaunch activities, mostly symposia, and generating thought-leader awareness of the product.

The company is constructing a presence for Exanta (melagatran) in the antithrombotic market by establishing lines of communication with scientists and specialists in that area. We are also building more of a presence in the long-term care segment that will help us support products like Seroquel for patients who are institutionalized and need antipsychotic agents.

PE: What is the company's mood after losing a megabrand patent? Hickey: The story of Prilosec is the story of how the industry works. It's the cycle of research, development, then back to research and development to create more efficacious drugs.

Brennan: Major product launches like that of Crestor give us the opportunity to reinvent the company and our processes. It won't be easy to go through the patent expirations. But they will happen, and we won't let our future be determined by that.

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