Drugmaker readies son of Claritin

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Schering-Plough's Corp.'s so-called son of Claritin will resemble its predecessor quite a bit. Schering-Plough hopes to dub the blockbuster allergy drug's successor Clarinex, according to people familiar with the matter.

Schering-Plough is awaiting approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on the new drug, which could come this fall. The company is also waiting for FDA clearance to use the name Clarinex.

A company spokesman declined to comment.

By choosing a name similar to Claritin, Schering-Plough hopes to capitalize on the near-ubiquitous physician and consumer recognition of Claritin as it markets the drug's successor.

Some industry observers, however, question that strategy. If Schering-Plough's goal is to switch consumers from Claritin to Clarinex, then the similar name could lead to physician confusion.

"It's a fine line between riding the coattails of the Claritin marketing campaign and differentiating the product enough so doctors don't confuse it," said a Wall Street analyst who declined to be named.

PRESCRIPTION-ONLY RECORD

The Claritin marketing campaign is perhaps the most-talked-about in the drug field. The drug generates more direct-to-consumer advertising -- some $137 million in 1999, according to IMS Health -- than any other prescription-only product.

Claritin was the first Rx drug to have a celebrity pitchperson when it used Joan Lunden in 1998. Another first came last year when Claritin became the official allergy medication of Major League Baseball.

Claritin has been handled by Parsippany, N.J.-based CommonHealth, owned by WPP Group, since its launch. McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, did some project work on the brand last spring, but no longer works on the product. CommonHealth's Quantum Group also handles the son-of-Claritin account.

The Schering-Plough spokes-man declined comment on how extensive marketing will be behind Clarinex. It's likely the company will promote Claritin and Clarinex simultaneously -- at least for a while.

It remains unclear how long Claritin will be protected by patent, which could expire in the next two or three years. And Schering-Plough is counting on Clarinex to help it prevent a profit dive. Claritin generated $1.7 billion in U.S. retail sales last year, according to IMS Health.

The new drug is said to work faster and be more effective than Claritin. But it remains to be seen if it will prevent consumers from trying a generic version of Claritin or an over-the-counter version if Schering-Plough pursues an Rx-to-OTC switch. Health maintenance organizations may also balk at paying more for Clarinex when other options are available.

PRICE MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Chase H&Q analyst Alex Zisson said much "depends on how they price it" and what label the FDA approves for Clarinex.

By opting for the name Clarinex, which the company filed to trademark last year, Schering-Plough takes a similar approach to Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which has given the successor to strong-selling diabetes drug Glucophage the name Gucovance. But AstraZeneca plans a different tack with the successor to its blockbuster heartburn drug Prilosec, giving the product a distinctly different moniker: Nexium.

Schering-Plough also markets a lesser-known allergy drug with the name Nasonex.

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