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Trying to get ahead in headaches, Bayer and American Home Products Corp. are about to launch the next generation of pain relievers in U.S. stores.

While it's uncertain how much ketoprofen will grow the $2.7 billion over-the-counter analgesics market, it will undoubtedly further fragment an already crowded category.

The two pharmaceutical companies have separately received Food & Drug Administration advisory committee recommendations for imminent OTC approval of ketoprofen. Both companies declined to comment on marketing plans, including how they will brand the new entries.

American Home Products-maker of Advil-has offered ketoprofen by prescription in the U.S. since 1986 under the name Orudis and extended-release Oruvail since 1993. Approximate '94 sales of both brands were $100 million, said Mark Riotto, editor of the newsletter Scott-Levin Associates. Bayer has sold the product in 27 countries outside the U.S. for more than 20 years.

What makes ketoprofen unique is that a little bit goes a long way. The pills are smaller than average tablets and require fewer milligrams of medicine to equal a typical dosage.

Still, with so many choices already, consultants wonder if consumers will know what to make of another analgesic.

"There is so much noise in the category," said Paul Kelly, president of Silvermine Consulting Group. "I don't know how you shoehorn in another relief story-these things have been camped out, but I don't know what [ketoprofen's] campsite is. I'm not looking at it as a blockbuster $500 million brand."

But for some time, technology has been the name of the game in analgesics, and ketoprofen is seen as particularly important for Bayer, which has lacked an innovative image. "From American Home's viewpoint, it's good to have some new products-it's doubly true for Bayer," said Mr. Kelly. "They need something to talk about other than aspirin."

Bayer-which in April was allowed to operate in the U.S. under its global name-has reshuffled its aspirin lines, now backed by $40 million in advertising via BBDO Worldwide, New York. But Mr. Kelly believes Bayer aspirin's ad budget, though up from $10.9 million in 1994, still misses the mark given the $100 million mega-budget behind Procter & Gamble's Aleve and others.

Sales for the sixth-ranked Bayer line fell 4.1% to $110.8 million for a 4.1% share for the 12 months through July 2, according to Information Resources Inc. Tylenol had a 30.5% share on sales of $818 million, down 5.4%, followed by private label at $575.4 million, up 4.2%, for a 21.5% share. Advil trails with $344.5 million in sales, up 6.7%, and a 12.9% share, followed by Aleve sales of $144.4 million and a 5.4% share.

"Bayer and AHP could be strong forces to put pressure on Tylenol, which still needs newness just like everybody else, and Aleve, which still needs to prove itself, though through the sheer power of Procter's sales force it still has good positioning," said David Williams, a principal at New England Consulting Group.

The big question is what the new brands, particularly Bayer's, will be called.

"They can't call it Bayer, since their name is so associated with aspirin," said Mike Perlmutter, senior consultant, pharmaceutical group, Kline & Co., who noted that other non-aspirin extensions of the Bayer brand name-Bayer Select-fizzled.

Added Mr. Williams, "Orudis-it's a bit harsh and grating.'

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