Aspirin, one of the world's oldest wonder drugs, may be soon be promoted as something even more wonderful.
A new medical study, scheduled to be made public today, reports that one aspirin taken every other day may help prevent first heart attacks. Aspirin makers are already relishing the news.
"If you say that we're ecstatic, I'd say that would be a fair word," said Robin Mills, president of Bayer Co., a division of New York-based Sterling Drug Corp. "This is the stuff that success is made of," Mills said in an interview late Tuesday.
And the makers of other aspirin, including Bufferin, which was used in the study, are certain to share in that enthusiasm.
"This could stimulate aspirin sales for a long time," said Kenneth Abramowitz, an analyst at the New York investment firm, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "You could end up getting millions of new people taking the drug."
But, Abramowitz cautioned, "the question remains, will a nation that eats so much junk food suddenly take an aspirin every other day? They'd probably be better off not eating the junk food" than taking an aspirin every other day.
For aspirin makers, it will good news indeed. The big aspirin makers have seen some tough years, as non-aspirin pain relievers chipped away at the $2-billion market for analgesics. After all, aspirin now accounts for less than half of all the over-the-counter sales of pain relievers. Other non-aspirin pain relievers, such as Tylenol and Advil, have recently amassed the bulk of pain reliever sales. The new report did not study aspirin substitutes.
For aspirin makers, the study may signal a comeback of sorts. "Everyone has heart disease--it's part of the aging process," said Jeff Goldsmith, an analyst with Health Futures, a Chicago-based consulting firm. "This represents a whole new use for for aspirin. You're bound to see a fresh wave of advertising that supports it."
Before that happens, however, the new study must be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA evaluates the safety and effectiveness of drugs and regulates their use.
The FDA has previously approved the use of daily aspirins to prevent second heart attacks, but Mills said Tuesday that it could be several years before the FDA comments on the latest study by the National Institutes of Health. Until it does, the Bayer president said, aspirin makers may see a boost in sales from new consumers of aspirin but will have to exercise caution in its advertising claims.
Although it may not be able to include the study's findings in its advertising, executives at Bayer were quick to get the word out. On Tuesday, they issued a press release that embraced the findings of the study. (Although the company asked that its release be withheld until the announcement today, the company's comments were widely distributed. And the president of Bayer put no restrictions on his comments about the announcement and what it means.)
Later this week, Bayer will introduce a new series of commercials that promote aspirin as a drug that can help prevent second heart attacks. One ad will feature a father witnessing the birth of his son. This father, however, is a heart attack victim who is around for the occasion, the ad will say, only because of preventive measures that include a daily dose of aspirin.
Marketing experts say that if FDA eventually does approve the use of aspirin as a means of preventing first heart attacks, aspirin makers could have a heyday advertising that fact. But instead of competing in their advertising of that finding, they may want to band together, suggests David Stewart, associate professor of marketing at USC.
"It would be kind of like the coffee growers have done recently," said Stewart. "They could all share in the cost of making this good news public. After all, if you do it alone, you're also advertising for everyone else."
THE ANALGESIC MARKET RUPROFEN 9% Advil Nuprin ACETAMINOPHEN 45% Anacin 3 Tylenol Datril Panadol ASPIRIN 46% Anacin Bayer Bufferin excedrin Main story, Part 1, Page 1.