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Novartis Consumer Health's major advertising push for its new over-the-counter Lamisil AT athlete's foot remedy appears to be paying off.

According to Novartis, Information Resources Inc. data show the former prescription product has become the best-selling athlete's foot cream in its first month on retail shelves.


The marketer claims the brand is the most successful Rx-to-OTC switch ever, as the fastest conversion to vault to No. 1 in its category.

The data for the four weeks ended June 6 show Lamisil with 32.6% of the estimated $100 million cream segment, ahead of Schering-Plough's Lotrimin-No. 2, with 25.1%.

By comparison, for the four weeks ended May 16, where the data don't include Lamisil, Lotrimin had a 36.6% share and was the overall athlete's foot leader in 1998, according to IRI.

Lamisil received OTC approval from the Food & Drug Administration earlier this year, and hit shelves in early May. Novartis launched a $15 million to $20 million national TV and print campaign from Grey Advertising, New York, on May 10.

Novartis has asked IRI to research the issue of whether Lamisil does represent the fastest rise to No. 1 after switching to OTC. The marketer went against conventional wisdom of keeping drugs as prescription-and at a higher price-for as long as possible. Its patent doesn't expire until 2007.

The company believed the increased volume of OTC sales would bring in more dollars than keeping it at prescription-only status.


"Athlete's foot is an OTC indication," said Barry Cohen, Novartis' category director for dermatologicals. "Consumers don't go to the doctor to treat athlete's foot. It's something they can self-diagnose and self-medicate."

Samuel Isaly, an analyst with OrbiMed Advisors, said the switch allowed Lamisil to experience the type of sales spike it had when first entering the market as prescription-only.

"The product in its prescription form had begun to age," he said. "This opens up a whole new user base, and they get a big bounce again."

Lamisil remains prescription-only in tablet form to treat toenail fungus.


Novartis is expected to seek a switch to OTC for its spray form for athlete's foot.

Novartis' advertising and other promotions have positioned Lamisil as the only OTC athlete's foot product that can effectively treat the problem in one week,

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