POWER PLAY: In an industry now starved for breakthrough products, more attention is being paid to new brands that combine existing drugs. That's the case with Merck, which is partnering with Schering-Plough Corp. to introduce Vytorin. The combination of Merck's Zocor and Schering's Zetia competes in the largest pharmaceutical segment, the $20 billion market for cholesterol-lowering drugs. But it will have to grapple with the top drug brand, marketed by the top pharma-Pfizer's Lipitor. Vytorin is especially important for Merck because the pharma company loses its patent protection on Zocor in 2006. Other impending opportunities for Merck and Ms. McKines, 45: a drug combining Merck's Singulair and Schering-Plough's Claritin is planned to fight asthma; FDA approval appears imminent for Merck's new COX-2 inhibitor pain drug Arcoxia.
DOWNSIDE: One big risk to direct-to-consumer drug marketers became clear late last week when Merck announced a worldwide recall of arthritis drug Vioxx, due to concerns that it increases risk of heart attack and stroke. So much for the hundreds of millions of ad dollars that have been spent on the brand during its lifetime. Similar health concerns have been raised about Arcoxia.