Pfizer to fuse 2 top-selling drugs

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Pfizer plans to combine two of its top-selling prescription drugs into a single pill by 2003, and the drug giant is already contacting advertising agencies about the marketing process.

The company is developing a combination product blending its blockbusters Lipitor and Norvasc. The new drug would attack cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol (Lipitor) and fighting high blood pressure (Norvasc) simultaneously.

The uber-pill makes sense since the two conditions are related and people with either problem frequently have the other. Lipitor and Norvasc each well exceed $1 billion a year in U.S. sales and the combination product has similar, if not greater potential, analysts said.

"We think it's the sort of drug with a billion-dollar-plus potential since [Lipitor and Norvasc] are huge drugs, and it's obviously a huge market. But we haven't seen any data," said Beth Cariello, an analyst with Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown.

Pfizer has not yet submitted an application for the drug to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; a company spokeswoman said no timetable has been set. But the company is in the early stages of a search for an agency to promote the drug to physicians and other health-care professionals. Atlanta-based consultant Wanamaker Associates has begun contacting a list of potential agencies to determine possible conflicts and gauge interest in pitching the account, people familiar with the matter said. More than 10 shops, including some of the best-known health-focused shops in New York, could vie for the account. The Pfizer spokeswoman said she was unaware of the search process.

Pfizer eventually could launch a pitch for a direct-to-consumer account for the combination pill. Cholesterol-lowering drugs are some of the most heavily advertised, including: Lipitor, the top seller among drugs referred to as statins; Merck & Co.'s No. 2 Zocor; and third-place Pravachol, from Bristol Myers-Squibb. Norvasc is not supported by DTC ads.

The combination pill's marketing strength is not only in its potential to be more effective than either Lipitor or Norvasc individually, but also in that it could reduce the number of pills a person takes daily. "The key opportunity is to reduce the compliance issue and lower the pill burden, because if people are taking six or seven different pills a day, it becomes a problem and they stop taking them," said one industry insider.

From a revenue standpoint, the combination pill could give Pfizer a buffer, as Norvasc and Lipitor approach patent expiration.

Pharmaceutical companies increasingly are on the lookout for ways to launch new and improved line extensions and joint-marketing initiatives to grow sales.

Merck and Schering-Plough Corp. are jointly developing a new cholesterol-lowering product they plan to market as a combination pill with Merck's Zocor. The two also are developing a respiratory product combining Merck's asthma drug Singulair and Schering's allergy drug Claritin.

Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert Co. last year largely to gain full control of Lipitor revenues; the companies had been co-marketers.

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