The reports of links between erectile-dysfunction drug use and eye damage are just the latest obstacle to the drugs' manufacturers-but the pharmaceutical marketers are unbowed.
Three ED drugs-Pfizer's Viagra, Eli Lilly's Cialis and GlaxoSmithKline and Schering-Plough's Levitra-have within the past two weeks been linked to permanent eye damage in users. Additionally, Viagra was hit by a firestorm after several state audits found that Medicaid reimbursed sex offenders for prescriptions; legislation was introduced in Congress to bar Medicare and Medicaid money for the drug's use.
So the top marketers in the category are likely to take a lower profile in advertising for awhile, right?
Wrong. With the big three duking it out in a flattening category, spending on ED drugs, at $384 million last year and second in pharmaceutical spending only to cholesterol-fighting drugs' $472 million, is expected to remain high-or even increase.
Sales and prescriptions for the three drugs rose only 1% in the first quarter of this year, according to IMS Health, Fairfield, Conn. That leaves the marketing rivals competing for the same patients. David Moskowitz, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey, Arlington, Va. predicts only a 1% to 2% gain in prescriptions through the rest of the year.
FIGHTING EACH OTHER
Right now, they're stealing each other's share: Viagra, which owned the market for almost six years, is down to 67% in the 21 months since Levitra and Cialis came along in August of 2003. Cialis holds a 22% share, according to IMS Health, and Levitra 11%. But they need to grow the market, and the way to do that in the opinion of the companies involved is to advertise.
"For the number of men being treated for ED, there was probably the same amount, or more, who have gone untreated," said a healthcare agency executive. "You'll continue to see advertising from all three, although it may skew more to disease awareness as opposed to whose product is more effective."
Moreover, there isn't expected to be a mass exodus from ED drugs based on the FDA report of blindness in some men who used the drug, since there were only 43 reports out of a total 30 million. An FDA spokeswoman said that while the agency hasn't "been able to determine that there is a cause and effect due to the medication, we are taking it seriously."
Yet that might be the least of the problems. The publicity surrounding the sex-offender news focused even more attention on the efforts to ban Medicare and Medicaid payments for ED drugs except in special circumstances.
contributing: ira teinowitz