Until recently, the pharmaceutical developer has been a silent partner for major companies such as Eli Lilly & Co. and Aventis Pharmaceuticals. Now, Sepracor is making its first foray as a direct-to-consumer marketer with a fast-acting, non-sedating antihistamine called Soltara.
The Marlborough, Mass., firm turned to the Interpublic Group of Cos.' shop for its direct-to-consumer effort, which will start once the Federal Drug Administration approves the drug for marketing, according to executives close to the situation.
Agency executives declined to comment and a spokeswoman for Sepracor would only confirm its relationship with Interpublic sibling Torre Lazur McCann, Parsippany, N.J., which handles communications to the medical profession for its prescription remedies. Executives close to the marketer said Torre Lazur introduced Sepracor to its sibling shop.
Soltara is a promising assignment, as analysts expect it will be able to compete with the more established brands-particularly because it may take effect faster than drugs already on the market. In May, the FDA accepted the company's application for clearance to sell Soltara, moving Sepracor closer to marketing approval.
"We think it could actually be a best-in-class allergy drug," said Rhett Brown, an associate analyst with Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown. "The main reason for that is the onset of action appears to be quite a bit more rapid than the other products."
The company doesn't expect the drug to be approved until next March at the earliest, which would make way for a fall 2002 market introduction, said Sepracor Chief Financial Officer Brian Southwell in an April 5 interview with Web-based news channel ON24 (on24.com). He also said the company plans to spend nearly $100 million per year-about what is spent on Aventis' Allegra-to compete in the $5.5 billion market, which includes Claritin, the largest DTC advertiser.
Much is at stake for the biotech concern, which has suffered product failures that spurred a stock free-fall to $23.45 in May from a high of $140 last July. Most notable were an experimental heartburn drug and an attempt to apply fluoxetine, an active ingredient in Eli Lilly's Prozac, for use in the prevention of migraines. Sepracor collects royalties from the sale of brands it helped develop such as Allegra and respiratory-care drug Xyzal, sold in Europe, but now it hopes to eclipse those proceeds with its own self-marketed products.
After ending 2000 with the $100 million loss of Kmart Corp., Campbell Mithun's billings are growing fast, thanks to a spate of new-business wins this year totaling upward of $215 million.
Campbell Mithun kicked off 2001 by winning the hard-fought $80 million kids' marketing assignment for Diageo's Burger King Corp. Last month, the shop quietly courted and snagged half the $90 million General Mills business formerly at Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago, along with the media assignments for the brands included in the win. Last week, the shop increased its portion of the Verizon West regional wireless account to $80 million after the telecom consolidated nine regions to four.
The Soltara move exemplifies how, in its best use, the holding company works. Campbell Mithun leveraged its international affiliations with McCann Worldwide to help snag the additional General Mills business, said insiders. Such stealth moves have worked well for the agency, which is also said to be working on a project for Coca-Cola Co. by way of its Burger King assignment, according to people close to the situation. And when Interpublic folded McCann's Phillips Ramsey shop in San Diego into Campbell Mithun earlier this year, the agency was made stronger to retain the Verizon West business.
Contributing: David Goetzl