Searle Readies Drug Blitz

Burnett Poised for Painkiller Branding Campaign
CHICAGO–The Food and Drug Administration’s advisory vote last week recommending approval of a new prescription painkiller developed by G.D. Searle sets the stage for a major direct-to-consumer campaign–with billings perhaps as high as $50 million–from Leo Burnett here.
Creative duties for the drug, Celebrex, were assigned to Burnett in March [Adweek, March 23], but the account has been dormant pending FDA approval. Burnett’s Starcom Media Services unit was given media responsibilities in June. With last week’s advisory recommendation, the drug is expected to be on the market as soon as the first quarter.
Sources said Searle will spend over $30 million, and perhaps as much as $50 million, to advertise the product in 1999, including heavy TV and print work, as it seeks to quickly establish the brand name for what will be, for a short time, the only available drug in a new class of painkillers.
Targeted primarily to the estimated 13 million sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, Celebrex is the first “Cox-2 inhibitor,” so-called because it works against the cyclooxygenase enzyme that triggers inflammation and pain. Celebrex is considered a safer alternative to ibuprofens such as Advil and other pain relievers, which can cause stomach ulcers when taken in large doses.
Merck & Co. recently filed an application for the FDA to consider its own Cox-2 drug, Vioxx, putting it about six months behind Searle.
Burnett directed inquires to Searle and its parent, Monsanto, neither of which could be reached for comment.
Burnett already handles two of the most heavily advertised pharmaceutical brands: Hoechst, Marion Roussel’s $65 million account for Allegra allergy medication;
and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Prozac antidepression drug, which received $25 million in direct-to-consumer advertising support during the first half of 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.