Diabetes drug Actos goes DTC as Rezulin exits

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With one leading diabetes drug off the market and another clinging to its lead, a third is taking action.

Joint marketers Takeda Pharmaceuticals America and Eli Lilly & Co. have advertised their diabetes drug, Actos, only to professionals so far. But this month, they begin a significant consumer effort to reach diabetics, including sufferers who used Warner-Lambert Co.'s Rezulin -- pulled from the market earlier this year amid concerns it caused liver damage.


In a new direct-to-consumer campaign for Actos from Draft Worldwide, Chicago, the number 140 is prominently displayed as a warning sign for blood sugar levels. Ads refer to the number as the "take action" point, a catchphrase that plays off the drug's name.

Print breaks this month in magazines such as Reader's Digest and Ladies' Home Journal. A 60-second TV spot is being reviewed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and will launch assuming the agency approves it. The TV ad is expected to break in test markets, with Cincinnati, New Orleans and South Bend, Ind. likely targets, according to people familiar with the company's plans. The TV buy would later include cable networks and buys during overnight news shows on broadcast networks.

The Actos effort is aimed at known diabetes sufferers. The push also targets family healthcare decisionmakers, usually a wife or mother. "Anybody who would know enough to know 140 is a bad number would be someone we're interested in reaching," said Rich Daly, VP-marketing at Takeda.


The Actos effort comes more than a year after SmithKline Beecham launched a DTC campaign for Avandia. Takeda and Lilly opted to concentrate early promotion efforts on physicians, giving Avandia a degree of DTC exclusivity. SmithKline spent $29 million behind the drug through the first five months of this year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

But Actos, which went on the market only a month after Avandia in July 1999, has nearly pulled even with its rival in sales. IMS Health figures show Avandia with $66.2 million in sales in June and Actos with $61.6 million.

Both drugs have benefited from the Rezulin withdrawal, which delivered a blow to Warner-Lambert. The drug generated more than $770 million in sales last year, according to IMS, but lost momentum as health concerns were raised and new drugs were introduced.

"You can see a very steady march downward over time and, if the trends had continued and Rezulin stayed on the market, it probably wouldn't have been much of a player," Mr. Daly said.

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