FLU FIGHTERS SET TO UNLEASH WINTER AD BLIZZARD

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Drug marketers will spend at least $50 million this winter in an attempt to render the dreaded flu shot obsolete.

Two marketers are set to support new flu drugs with major direct-to-consumer ad campaigns. A third is searching for an agency to launch a remedy it hopes will make the shots history for the 100 million Americans bitten annually by the flu bug.

In November, Aviron will meet with shops to handle FluMist, a nasal spray that would be used once a year and serve as a vaccine in place of an injection.

The company plans to re-submit an application this fall to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for approval of the product, which would be co-marketed in the U.S. under an agreement with American Home Products Corp.'s Wyeth-Ayerst division.

$20 MIL FOR FLUMIST

Potential spending on the brand couldn't be determined, but Aviron will receive $20 million for marketing from Wyerth-Ayerst upon FDA approval.

Carol Olson, Aviron's senior VP-commercial development, said the company wants to be ready to launch its marketing campaign soon after the drug is cleared by the FDA.

"The appeal of the product is in the delivery," she said. "It's a gentle mist delivered intranasally."

Wellcome's Relenza and Hoffmann-La Roche's Tamiflu, both aimed at mitigating the effects of the flu once a person has it. Research is ongoing as to whether those two drugs can also prevent the illness.

The principal difference between Relenza, which received FDA approval in July, and Tamiflu, expected to get it soon, is in how the drugs are delivered. Relenza is taken via an inhaler, while Tamiflu is a tablet. Both are taken for five days.

Glaxo, via Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Connection, New York, and Roche, via Sudler & Hennessey, New York, are expected to launch healthy DTC campaigns as flu season kicks in.

PRIME-TIME FLU FORUM

Prime-time TV this winter could well become a near-endless forum for flu-related marketing messages as the companies seek to inform consumers that the flu is a serious illness and that new treatments are available. Spending easily could exceed $50 million.

The impending DTC blitz could help Aviron even though it'll be on the sidelines during the initial phase of the flu wars.

"We see that as a big advantage to people understanding more and more about the flu," Ms. Olson said.

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