The account for Elidel, a prescription cream for the treatment of the skin condition eczema, is said to be worth nearly $60 million; Novartis spent $44.1 million on Elidel through the first eight months of this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.
An official announcement is expected next week.
A spokesman for Merkley Newman declined to comment. A Novartis spokeswoman handling the Elidel account did not return a phone call at press time.
Executives close to the review said the final decision was based in part on direct-to-consumer spots that were shown to test groups. But the executives also said Novartis allowed Merkley Newman to submit two spots, while Deutsch and Quantum Group each had one.
Merkley is already a Novartis roster shop, handling creative duties on incontinence drug Enablex. Deutsch is also a roster shop for the marketer with accounts for Lamisil (toenail fungus) and Zelnorm (irritable bowel syndrome).
Quantum Group launched Elidel in January. Its latest campaign features a spot with a variety of people from all walks of life who suffer from eczema, including a woman putting herself through the time-honored, though flawed, treatment of taking a bath in oatmeal.
WPP's MindShare will continue to handle media duties for Elidel.