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AstraZeneca Launches Cholesterol Pill in U.S.

The drug Crestor will rival Pfizer's top-selling Lipitor. Analysts expect an ad blitz of more than $1 billion in its first year.

September 16, 2003|From Reuters

LONDON — AstraZeneca launched its biggest new drug hope, cholesterol fighter Crestor, in the United States on Monday, sparking the latest in a series of marketing battles that will dominate the industry this autumn.

Europe's second-biggest drug maker is challenging Pfizer Inc., whose rival pill Lipitor is the world's top-selling drug with annual sales of $8 billion.

"We're ready to go," said a spokesman for AstraZeneca.

In trading on the New York Stock Exchange, AstraZeneca fell 66 cents to $42.52 and Pfizer dropped 4 cents to $31.86.

Crestor is central to AstraZeneca's plans of offsetting declining sales of heartburn and ulcer pill Losec, or Prilosec, which has been hit by less expensive, generic competition.

Industry analysts say the Anglo-Swedish firm is likely to spend more than $1 billion promoting the drug in its first year on the market. The company declined to comment.

Crestor, part of the popular cholesterol-lowering family of medicines known as statins, is already on sale in much of Europe and Canada.

But success in the world's biggest and most lucrative market -- the United States -- will determine if annual sales reach market expectations of more than $3 billion.

AstraZeneca is not alone in digging deep to ensure success for a new medicine in an established area of the pharmaceutical market.

Last week, GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer turned to the public relations clout of former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka to help launch their new impotence drug Levitra, the first serious rival to Pfizer's Viagra.

The British and German partners say they have a potential $1-billion-a-year seller in Levitra.

Doctors and patients alike can expect to be bombarded in coming months by visits from drug company representatives and direct-to-consumer advertisements on television for cholesterol and erectile dysfunction products.

Drug companies are having to shout ever louder to get their message heard in an increasingly crowded marketplace, according to Barrie James of Pharma Strategy Consulting.

"About 35% of company revenues are now going into marketing, which is more than twice the 15% or so that goes into R&D," he said.

The marketing blitz is not confined to the prescription end of the market.

Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble Co. also has a major advertising drive lined up for its over-the-counter version of Prilosec, which was shipped to U.S. retailers on Monday.

Procter &Gamble has said that it expects over-the-counter sales of Prilosec to be $200 million to $400 million in the first year.

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