GLAXO PUMPS $55 MIL INTO ZYBAN DTC PUSH: ANTI-DEPRESSANT WILL BE TOUTED AS AID TO QUIT SMOKING CIGARETTES

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Creating a new use for its antidepressant drug Wellbutrin, Glaxo Wellcome this fall will unleash an estimated $55 million in direct-to-consumer advertising for the product-as anti-smoking pill Zyban.

Glaxo, the No. 1 DTC advertiser, began teaser ads for Zyban on network TV last week, and said that an "extensive" campaign is planned to start in September, via FCB Healthcare, New York.

The pill is the first non-nicotine smoking therapy approved by the FDA. The company said clinical trials showed Zyban helped 49% of patients quit smoking over four weeks vs. 36% of those on a patch and 23% who used a placebo.

Combined with Novartis Corp.'s prescription Habitrol patch, consumers had a 58% success rate. Co-advertising with the patch had been considered but is on hold.

While Zyban is a prescription product, much of the smoking-cessation business went over-the-counter in mid-1996, with sales totaling $546.2 million for the year ended June 22, according to Information Resources Inc.

INTENSE SPENDING

Media spending in the category is intense, with $109.7 million being put behind SmithKline Beecham's Nicorette gum and NicoDerm CQ patch in 1996 and an additional $53.4 million from Johnson & Johnson for its Nicotrol patch, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Zyban is actually the sustained-release version of Wellbutrin that was introduced in February. Wellbutrin sales increased 32.4%, to $126.9 million last year, even in the face of a new generation of antidepressants such as Eli Lilly & Co.'s Prozac.

A Glaxo spokesman explained that depression and smoker's withdrawal occur in the same areas of the brain, but that the company has not considered the issue from a marketing standpoint.

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