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The fight for interactive medical marketing dollars is escalating.

Whittle Communications-the first in the field with Medical News Network for physicians offices-announced last week that three of the nation's top 10 pharmaceutical companies will provide $147 million to sponsor the satellite-delivered interactive news program's rollout, scheduled for October.

But Whittle needs about $53 million more, and last week the companies representing 60% of the funding for MNN's $100 million one-year test confirmed they won't continue with the network (AA, Nov. 15).

Meanwhile, Pyramed, a joint venture of American Medical Television, NBC, Interactive Health Network and Hearst/ABC-Viacom Entertainment Services, claimed to have nabbed for its April launch four companies that backed the MNN test. Pyramed wouldn't disclose their names.

Several marketers cited cost cutting as a reason for dropping MNN; others claimed the technology is not sophisticated enough.

MNN Chairman Alan Greenberg said negotiations with five other companies are in the final stages. But Merck & Co., the MNN test's biggest supporter at $30 million; Abbott Laboratories, which gave $20 million; and Ciba-Geigy Corp., a $10 million advertiser, confirmed their relationship with MNN ended when the test wrapped up last month.

Marion Merrell Dow, Glaxo, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-which at $10 million each provided the remaining 40% of the test's funding-remain undecided about continuing to support MNN, though insiders said Pfizer at least will stay.

All of the marketers involved in MNN's test said they are considering Pyramed as well as Physicians Television Network, a high-power direct broadcast satellite service with limited interactive capabilities that is to make its debut in 100,000 doctors homes late this year. Whittle plans to have MNN in 50,000 offices in two years.

"Pyramed and PTN have both made presentations, but we haven't officially decided on either," an Abbott spokesman said. "The only thing we're committed to is the concept of interactive marketing."

A Merck executive said the company is focusing more on managed care following its acquisition of managed-drugcare company Medco Containment Services. Merck denied a Whittle insider's claim that the company is considering its own interactive marketing venture.

But MNN is already taking steps to try to be more appealing to marketers looking to reach managed care providers. Whittle last week announced it will establish a second electronic network for some 4,000 key executives through "multiyear agreements with 163 leading managed care companies."

David Moore, president of Pyramed (soon to be renamed GeoMedica), said that service has seven sponsors-all it needs to be launched-though he declined to name the companies.

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