HOECHST READIES ANTIHISTAMINE;ALLEGRA TO HIT RX MARKET BY MID-AUGUST

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Hoping to win back a larger share of the booming prescription allergy market, Hoechst Marion Roussel will roll out its non-sedating Allegra brand by mid-August, in time for the second half of the allergy season.

Medicus Group International, New York, a unit of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, will handle direct-to-consumer and professional advertising for Allegra, approved by the Food & Drug Administration late last week.

`A MAJOR PRIORITY'

"Allegra is a major priority for our organization," said Jan Creidenberg, Hoechst product manager for the brand. "The launch will be a major event we will be focusing our resources on. [Direct-to-consumer] is a must in the market now, and we'll be doing some innovative programs with pharmacies."

To be competitive with the

No. 1-selling antihistamine-Schering-Plough Corp.'s Claritin, which was among the top spenders in DTC ads in 1995-Hoechst will have to spend about $30 million. Thomas Ferguson Associates, Parsippany, N.J., handles Claritin.

SELDANE IN SECOND

The prescription antihistamine category reached $870 million in 1995, according to researcher IMS America. Claritin finished the year at $445 million, a 45% gain, while Hoechst's Seldane brand fell 12% to $272 million.

Still, Seldane holds second place in sales, with more than 20%. Seldane received $18 million in DTC support via Medicus in 1995. With the emphasis on Allegra, Seldane will likely lose all its marketing support, however.

LOWER PRICE FOR LEG UP

Allegra's main edge over Claritin will be that its price is 15% lower, a benefit in today's managed care environment.

"It will be the least expensive non-sedating product on the market," Mr. Creidenberg said.

"Their success depends on two things," said Susan Coleman, president of NCI Consulting. "Consumer loyalty to Claritin and how Claritin responds competitively. They may well reduce [Claritin's] price and cut off Allegra's legs."

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