Clarinex ready to go

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Schering-Plough will use a futuristic logo to introduce its eagerly anticipated successor to the blockbuster drug Claritin, now in the final stages of government approval.

The pharmaceutical giant intends to use a logo that features the drug's name, Clarinex, in futuristic letters with an arch that dots the letter "i" and extends over part of the word. The lettering bears a resemblance to that used for the 1977 Columbia Studios film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and the 2000 Paramount Pictures production "Mission: Impossible 2."

The modern look dovetails with Schering's plan to position the drug as the next-generation Claritin as well as the future of allergy treatments.

A Schering spokesman said the company does not comment on marketing matters.

A pricey introductory campaign plugging Clarinex is expected in late February, if not before. Schering said last week the drug has received an "approvable" letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An approvable letter is the last step before the FDA grants a drug final approval for marketing. A Web site (clarinex.com) is expected to be launched soon after clearance. One person familiar with the matter said Schering could launch Clarinex ads during the week of Feb. 26 and recently has moved to shift upfront buys for Claritin to Clarinex, perhaps after the company received the approvable letter on Jan. 19.

Schering will have to navigate some dicey issues involving Clarinex marketing. In order to blunt generic competition, the company hopes to shift most Claritin users to Clarinex before the older drug goes off patent in 2002. At the same time, it does not want to emaciate the Claritin brand too much, because its Claritin RediTabs, Claritin-D and Claritin Syrup have patent lives that outlive Claritin. Still, similar line extensions for Clarinex are in development. U.S. sales in 2000 for the Claritin line totaled $2.6 billion, up 15% from the previous year. It is likely that Schering will largely drop promotions for Claritin in favor of Clarinex but continue to market its individual Claritin line extentions.

The fate of Claritin spokeswoman Joan Lunden is uncertain, but one person close to the situation said she is not scheduled to do ads for Clarinex. The former "Good Morning America" hostess, who is still under contract with Schering, has been a pillar of the Claritin brand since 1998.

Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J., a unit of WPP Group's CommonHealth, has handled Claritin since its launch and also handles Clarinex. A Quantum spokeswoman declined comment and referred calls to Schering.

Ad sales executives, many of whom have reaped the benefits of Schering's relentless promotion of Claritin in recent years, certainly are watching closely and rooting for Clarinex to succeed so they don't have to endure a drop in Schering's spending.

Schering spent $137 million on the Claritin brand in 1999, more than any other prescription drug, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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