LOWE HOLDS ONTO XENICAL ON THE 2ND TIME AROUND;BREAKAWAY LIEBER LEVETT LOSES BID FOR $45 MIL ANTI-OBESITY DRUG ACC'T

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For the second time this fall, Roche Laboratories has picked Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, to handle the launch of Xenical, its new anti-obesity prescription drug.

Roche last week said Lowe and its Lowe Direct and Lowe McAdams Healthcare units will keep the $45 million account. The same day, Roche trucks transported Xenical's new-drug application-the biggest in the company's history-to the Food & Drug Administration in Washington.

Roche hopes for approval in the first half of next year.

SETBACK FOR LIEBER LEVETT

For Lieber, Levett, Koenig, Farese & Babcock, a new agency formed by ex-Lowe executives, Roche's decision is a setback (AA, Oct. 28, et seq.). Roche had awarded Xenical to the Lowe units in mid-October, but when the five top executives left Lowe Direct a week later to form Lieber Levett, Roche began to reconsider.

Concerned about the loss of the five and 10 other staffers, Roche said it wanted to give Lowe a chance to adequately restaff its account.

Meanwhile, Lieber Levett made a pitch for Xenical, and Lowe filed a suit against the breakaway shop alleging theft of confidential materials and unfair competition, among other offenses. The suit was settled out of court Nov. 20.

REBUILDING STAFF

"Lowe has had a chance to rebuild its staff," said Philippe Burnham, Xenical brand director at Roche. He said Roche feels good about the new people Lowe has hired. A contract with the agency has not yet been signed.

Xenical, whose medical name is orlistat, is one of several products seeking FDA approval for prescription weight-loss treatment.

In April, Wyeth-Ayerst, a division of American Home Products Corp., received prescription approval for Redux, an appetite suppressant analysts think could be one of the fastest-growing prescription brands in history.

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