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Fido has a new ally in the fight against fleas.

Pending Food & Drug Administration approval, Ciba-Geigy Corp.'s animal health division will introduce a monthly oral prescription product this spring that could revolutionize the flea control market.

The product, called Program, interrupts the flea breeding cycle with a chemical, Lufenuron. The drug stays in an animal's bloodstream and is absorbed by fleas when they bite. Eggs laid by those fleas will not hatch.

Program is already available in several countries where hot, dry weather creates major flea problems: Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Sales have been strong in all the markets it has entered.

"Fleas affect the pet owner almost as much as the pet-you can really see the animal suffer," said Tim Phillips, a veterinarian and editor of the trade publication Pet Industry. "Ciba is a rising star in the petcare market. This would go up against all the flea collars, dips and powders out there, and if it's safe, it could be a major hit."

Bayer USA's Miles animal health products division has had a treatment for dogs, Proban, on the market for about 10 years. Proban is a pill administered twice a week. But many vets are wary of Proban, which they say is too toxic and can cause liver damage.

Ciba's Program is said to be much gentler and is only taken once a month. The cost is expected to be significantly higher than flea collars, which go for less than $10 and last several months, but less than a flea bath at the vet's office.

Program's other advantage will be a nearly $10 million consumer print and direct mail campaign via Earle Palmer Brown, New York.

It is not clear whether Program will be available in the U.S. for cats as well as dogs, as it is in Australia. Cats have a much lower tolerance for drugs than dogs do.

In Australia, "Program's huge; it's highly effective and it has knocked rinses and powders right out of the market," said Richard Churcher, a partner at North Shore Veterinary Hospital, Sydney. "Clients have switched en masse. I'd think Ciba-Geigy stands to make a fortune once they get into the U.S."

Program holds an 80% share of flea control products sold through veterinarians in Australia, said Jeremy Cox, product manager at Ciba-Geigy, Sydney.

Ciba officials in the U.S. and FDA spokes men declined comment.

The U.S. flea control market is disparate and difficult to track. Pack aged Facts, New York, estimates it to be a $271 million business; IMS America, Plymouth Meeting, Pa., says $90 million. The top names are Sandoz Corp.'s Vet-Kem, SmithKline Beecham's Animal Health division and Im cer's Pitman Moore.

However it is mea sured, there's little doubt there is a huge potential market for Program. There are 53 million dog owners and 62 million cat owners in the U.S., according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Seventy percent of dog owners and 50% of cat owners buy current flea and tick control products.M

Geoffrey Lee Martin


15.6Ads already are running in Australia for Program, Ciba-Geigy's flea pill that could be introduced in the U.S. this spring.

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