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Seeking relief from sagging sales of its Imitrex migraine drug, Glaxo Wellcome shifted the estimated $40 million ad account to Grey Advertising after a review.

New York-based Grey will handle direct-to-consumer creative for the prescription-only drug, while subsidiary Grey Healthcare Group will create ads targeted to healthcare professionals.


The review included incumbent Klemtner Advertising, a unit of Saatchi & Saatchi, and Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, both New York.

In July, Glaxo caused a stir when it said it would not deliver on its promise of 10% sales and earnings gains this year. The marketer attributed some of that failure to disappointing Imitrex sales brought on by strong competition.

Imitrex, available in tablet, nasal spray and injectable forms, still dominates the $1.2 billion migraine drug market, but competitors have been gaining ground.


Last year, the three forms of Imitrex accounted for $968 million in U.S. retail sales for 84% of the migraine-remedy market, according to consulting company Scott-Levin. But its share has declined to 74%, or $640 million, through August of this year. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca's Zomig has jumped from 6% in 1998 to 10% through August, helped by a DTC push with spending comparable to Imitrex.

New products such as Merck & Co.'s Maxalt and Glaxo's Amerge, which have yet to receive DTC support, have also made headway. Another competitor, Relpax, to be jointly marketed by Pfizer and Warner-Lambert, is awaiting U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval.

Additionally, Mentholatum Co. introduced non-prescription Migraine Ice pads earlier this year, while Bristol Myers-Squibb launched an Excedrin Migraine product last year. Excedrin Migraine generated $60 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended July 18, according to Information Resources Inc.

Grey used to handle Zomig, but that account has since been shifted to KPR, New York.

Bernard Liu, an analyst with OrbiMed Advisors, said he thinks Glaxo is considering shifting its Imitrex strategy from a brand-focused message to a call to action aimed at encouraging migraine sufferers to go to a physician.


"Since [Glaxo] already gets the lion's share of the new prescriptions, it might be better to raise the overall awareness of migraines," he said.

Figures provided by Grey show 47% of the 23 million Americans who suffer from migraines are not diagnosed with the problem.

Grey has handled Glaxo business since 1995. The agency works on the Flonase anti-allergy DTC account, which generated $35.7 million in spending last year, per Competitive Media Reporting, as well as the less-advertised asthma drugs Flovent and Serevent.

Klemtner lost the media portion of the account in May 1998 after the marketer moved it to Wilson Media Group, New York.

At the end of last year, Grey formed a new creative unit within the agency -- the Over-the-Counter & Direct-to-Consumer Pharmaceuticals division. That unit is led by Exec VP-Senior Creative Director Mark Schwatka, who worked closely with Exec VP-Account Manager John Edwards to land Imitrex.

Since the beginning of this year, the new unit has brought in several new accounts, including the $10 million Allergan contact solutions business and

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