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When Zeneca Pharmaceuticals launched its prescription migraine drug Zomig in late 1997, few but the brand team believed the company could mount a challenge to market leader Imitrex.

"Everyone else was chuckling on the side," says Steve Buckanavage, global brand director-central nervous system products for AstraZeneca. "I don't think anybody believed for a second that we would be able to do this."

But the brand team of Mike Toupe, then-product promotions manager; Mr. Buckanavage; and others believed Imitrex marketer Glaxo Wellcome had left a golden opening: to position Zomig as the "use anytime" product. Research showed dissatisfaction with Imitrex because sufferers felt if they didn't take the drug early enough, it was too late.

But Mr. Toupe and Zeneca marketers also believed if they began immediately with the "use anytime" ad positioning, they would risk leaving an opening for Merck & Co. to plug Maxalt, a drug that was only months away from launch.

To blunt Maxalt's offensive, Zeneca began an intensive doctor-targeted campaign, and later a direct-to-consumer effort, both aimed at touting Zomig as a rapid reliever.

Then, under Mr. Toupe's leadership, last year the marketer shifted to KPR, New York, from Grey Advertising, New York (which ironically later picked up Imitrex). Last fall, Mr. Toupe's team rolled out a TV and print campaign with the tag, "Zomig: Take it over migraine pain anytime."

In 1999, Zomig continued to gain market share vs. Imitrex. Second-place Zomig posted $122.3 million in sales, a 70.9% jump over 1998, according to consultancy IMS Health, for 9.5% of the $1.29 billion market.

Sadly, Mr. Toupe passed away at the age of 42 on May 13, only days after being diagnosed with leukemia. His colleagues and competitors were left in a state of shock.

Mr. Buckanavage says executives from other pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Eli Lilly called with condolences and offers to set up a Mike Toupe Travel Fellowship for the American Headache Society. The fellowship will provide funds for medical students and professionals to attend the AHS annual meeting. "To have the tops in their fields stop everything and say, `If there's anything we can do' [is] some of the highest tribute you can have," says Mr. Buckanavage.

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