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In the surest sign yet of the mainstreaming of alternative remedies, SmithKline Beecham Corp. and American Home Products Corp. are entering the nearly $3 billion herbal remedy market.

Last week, SmithKline began testing in the U.S. a 100-year-old line of German herbal products called Abtei that it acquired a few years ago. Ogilvy & Mather, New York, will handle a TV ad campaign breaking in November in the test markets of Dallas, Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Francisco.

Initially, there are four products: saw palmetto for prostate problems, St. John's wort for mood improvement, gingko biloba for memory and ginseng for stamina. The name Abtei translates from German as "abbey."


American Home said its Whitehall-Robins Healthcare division is teaming up with PharmaPrint for a line of prescription and over-the-counter herbals. The two will launch a new line of seven remedies by next summer; they would not disclose the types or a brand name.

American Home's Whitehall markets Centrum vitamins, which will likely carry the line under its brand. Centrum received $29.9 million in media ad support last year via Carrafiello-Diehl & Associates, Irvington, N.Y.


SmithKline and American Home Products follow Warner-Lambert Co.'s move into zinc and echinacea lozenges through its Halls and Celestial Seasonings brands (AA, June 23). Bates USA, New York, handles those brands.

Up until now, most of the herbals market has been made up of small and medium-sized players, though their marketing budgets have grown more powerful.

Katherine Golas, director of marketing at PharmaPrint, said a number of major marketers approached her company for a partnership.

Drug giants are now interested in the herbals business because "there is a 20% to 25% annual growth rate while OTC [drugs] is at about a 5% growth rate," she said.

PharmaPrint, a 3-year-old spinoff of the University of Southern California medical school, is taking an unusual approach with its saw palmetto berry and St. John's wort products-it's seeking Food & Drug Administration approval to sell them by prescription. St. John's wort has been called a natural alternative to Eli Lilly & Co.'s popular mood balancer Prozac.

"It's an industry that's long been unregulated," said Ms. Golas. "Everybody thinks that 'natural' is equated with 'safe,' but there is some variability."


PharmaPrint has four patents on the consistency of manufacturing for its products.

Herbal makers in recent years have pushed for greater product consistency industrywide and under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act have been able to make simple "structure and function" claims that improved their marketability.

Some have pushed the envelope, however. Pharmanex has advertised that its Cholestin treatment for high blood cholesterol can "lower your cholesterol without drugs." The FDA is pursuing the point that the product should be

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