XENICAL SET TO DEBUT WEIGHTY $75 MIL CAMPAIGN

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Hoffmann-La Roche is set to debut its highly anticipated direct-to-consumer ad campaign next week for its potential blockbuster obesity drug, Xenical.

The national TV effort, estimated between $70 million and $75 million, will be unveiled Oct. 4 on ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football" and other network and cable shows, according to exec-utives familiar with the company's plans.

ON BIG 3 NETWORKS

All three major networks as well as TBS, TNT, Lifetime and the Food Network are expected to air the campaign, which begins with a single 60-second spot. The accompanying print work will run in weekly magazines such as Newsweek, People, Sports Illustrated, Time and U.S. News & World Report.

Calls to several Roche officials were not returned.

The campaign is from Lowe Consumer Healthcare, New York, a newly created unit of the Lowe Group specializing in direct-to-consumer drug advertising.

The effort, moreover, may prove a larger-than-expected boon for weekly publications as the marketer may shift dollars to them that had been earmarked for monthly publications.

MISSING THE MONTHLIES

Roche's original marketing plans called for ads in weeklies and monthlies. But the company wasn't able to get U.S. Food & Drug Administration clearance in time to make the monthly deadlines; now space in some may be filled through year's end.

The ads are expected to further Roche's goal of positioning Xenical as more than a lifestyle or vanity drug, but as a treatment for a serious medical problem.

Roche also wants to be careful not to overhype the drug as a miracle-in-a-bottle.

"I wouldn't call this a 'You've got a high school reunion in two weeks and need to lose weight [campaign],' " said an executive with knowledge of the effort. "This is: 'You've been waging an ongoing battle and this is now an ally that's going to help you control your weight in the long term.' "

WOMEN AS GATEKEEPERS

Though the ad push targets men and women, the campaign strategy relies heavily on the theory that women serve as so-called gatekeepers, making health decisions for an entire household, including their husbands. Figures from the National Institutes of Health show 32 million women are overweight, while 26 million men suffer from the problem.

Besides consumers, the marketer is hoping the campaign will appeal to doctors, managed-care officials and investors, among others, the executive said.

"This is made in heaven" for direct-to-consumer advertising, said Samuel Isaly, an analyst with OrbiMed Advisors.

Xenical is the trailblazer in what is expected to be a new class of drugs that work to actually block the absorption of dietary fat. Xenical may lessen the amount of fat absorbed by 30%.

Until now, obesity drugs have worked mostly by trying to limit a person's appetite through altering brain chemistry. The most prominent recent example has been Knoll Pharmaceutical's Meridia, which benefited from a $50 million DTC launch last year and posted $108.1 million in 1998 sales, its first full year on the market, according to consulting company Scott-Levin.

In 1997, the FDA forced American Home Products' Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories to pull its popular Redux drug off the market based on reports that it caused heart problems.

SEIZING SHARE FROM MERIDIA

Xenical was approved by the FDA in April and since then has seized market share from Meridia. Meridia had a dominant 48.2% of the $224 million annual anti-obesity market last year, per Scott-Levin. But sales data for August showed its share had dropped to 25.4%, with Xenical holding 48% of the market.

Julie Kline, an associate product manager at Scott-Levin who tests the effectiveness of DTC ads, said she expects the Xenical campaign will help the drug continue its sales swell.

"Drugs focusing on physical things tend to get consumers' attention," she said, citing the effectiveness of ads for Merck & Co. hair-loss drug Propecia and Pfizer's erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. "Our society is very focused on

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