Bayer set to push Viagra rival

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Bayer Corp. has enlisted Robert A. Becker/Euro RSCG in its bid to make Viagra go limp.

The drug giant picked the New York agency to produce advertising for an orally administered erectile dysfunction drug expected to hit the market in 2002. The pill has a chance to pose the first serious challenge to Pfizer's marketing gem.

The Bayer drug is expected to carry the brand name Nuviva; so far, it's known only by its generic name, vardenafil. The product is in clinical trials and should be submitted to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for approval early next year.

Becker won a review of an undisclosed cadre of agencies to serve as the global agency for both the consumer- and physician-targeted campaigns for Nuviva. A direct-to-consumer campaign is expected to be comparable in scope and spending to the ones Pfizer has used for Viagra. Pfizer spent $53 million on Viagra's U.S. ads in 1999 and $43 million through June of 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

A Bayer spokesman said he was not familiar with either the brand name or agency selection process. Bayer filed for a trademark on Nuviva in April.

Pfizer's marketing of Viagra's recognizable blue pills has been widely touted as a successful case study. The company helped replace the harsh-sounding term "impotence" with the softer "erectile dysfunction" or "ED" in the vernacular, perhaps easing conversation with physicians and between spouses on the subject. It also convinced former U.S. Senator and war hero Bob Dole to go before the cameras and speak about his battle with the problem.

The executive close to Bayer suggested the company might be able to build on Pfizer's success-especially as the market matures over the next two years-but still take its own tack.

"It's an enhancer," the executive said of Nuviva. "Men hate to be called dysfunctional."

Nuviva may not be Pfizer's only challenger. Co-marketers Eli Lilly and Icos are testing a drug called Cialis, which could be launched around the same time as Nuviva, if not before.

Pfizer has, however, caught several breaks as potential rivals Uprima from TAP Pharmaceuticals and Vasomax from co-marketers Schering-Plough and Zonagen have met with FDA roadblocks.

The upcoming rivals could boast of fewer side effects and faster effectiveness than Viagra, which usually begins to work an hour after a pill is taken.

Still, there is skepticism that either Nuviva or Cialis will be able to overcome Viagra's sky-high brand awareness.

"There's no way in my mind that either one of these two will ever be bigger than Viagra, because there's a huge brand-name recognition and great first-mover advantage," said Corey Davis, an analyst with Chase H&Q.

But the Bayer spokesman said Nuviva and others could expand the market and draw in more consumers.

"Typically with drugs, obviously the first in has 100% market share," he said. "But they usually don't saturate the market. Usually, the second and third drugs in actually grow the market. Over 90% of men suffering from erectile dysfunction still are not treated for it."

According to Pfizer, more than 30 million prescriptions have been written for Viagra for more than 10 million men worldwide. Third-quarter global sales jumped 36% to $332 million.

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