WHITEHALL'S AXID STRAGGLES INTO OTC ACID BLOCKER FRAY

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Perhaps better late than never, Whitehall-Robins Healthcare will race to market with the fourth over-the-counter acid blocker: Axid AR.

The brand, which had prescription sales of $548 million worldwide in 1995, has been approved for OTC sale by the Food & Drug Administration (AA, May 13).

To be competitive, the American Home Products Corp. unit will have to spend in the $100 million range. Axid AR will be going up against three products now spending a combined total of $300 million in advertising and marketing: Johnson & Johnson/Merck's Pepcid AC, SmithKline Beecham's Tagamet HB and Warner Wellcome Consumer Care's Zantac 75.

The marketer declined to comment on ad and spending plans. Young & Rubicam, New York, has the assignment.

The ad message will have to address using the product as a preventative, since it was approved by the FDA for those claims only.

Pepcid AC and Tagamet can claim both prevention and treatment for heartburn, while Zantac 75 was approved only for treatment.

CATEGORY GROWTH

The acid blockers have brought encouraging growth to the $1.35 billion stomach remedies category, which jumped 21.3% through Feb. 25, according to Information Resources Inc.

Pepcid AC has captured first place in the total category with a 13.4% share, up from No. 3 just a month before. Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's Healthcare Connection, New York, handles the brand.

Some industry observers speculated Axid AR may have to offer value pricing to be competitive as a late entry.

"It never used to be this way, with racing to the market. But now the FDA is approving multiple brands at a time," said Paul Kelly, president of Silvermine Consulting. "It's a big change. Drug companies were never known for rushing anything."

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