The joint venture between Bristol-Myers and Japan's Lion Corp. wants a cough-cold prescription medication to switch to over-the-counter status, a growing trend here as in the U.S. and Europe.
The idea is to combine Bufferin with other products like antihistamines to produce a cough-cold remedy in a single pill, said Bristol-Myers Lion General Manager Masatae Akedo.
Currently, nearly all cough-cold remedies in Japan are sold by prescription only.
The company sees a profitable future in switchovers, since the Health & Welfare Ministry is encouraging such moves to reduce insurance costs. The idea is to cut Japan's healthcare expenses by relieving doctors of treating minor ailments. The current system is composed of nine different medical care programs, a mixture of private companies and national health insurance.
Although Bristol-Myers Lion isn't projecting sales, Mr. Akedo said a good cough-cold switchover could lead to a $100 million market. As a result, Bristol-Myers Lion is currently contacting companies to find the "right product" to pair with.
The company won't disclose names of companies it's pursuing.
The move to diversify isn't a reaction to slow sales: Bristol-Myers Lion's 1993 sales were up 5% to $120 million, a bright spot in an analgesics market that fell 3% to $8 billion. However, the marketer is concerned that growth of its cash cow analgesics business is tailing off.
Mr. Akedo predicts analgesics to be flat this year at its 1993 level of about $350 million.
He notes that fewer people caught influenza or colds in the first quarter of 1994 because of dry weather, and the flu virus strain was similar to last year's so people built up an immunity. Therefore there was a lessened need for pain relievers.
Bufferin's 30% share of analgesics tops Norshin Pharmaceutical's 20% and Naron Pharmaceutical's 14%, and was built up through consistent advertising created by Grey-Daiko and run on TV and in print.