Shops Pitch for New Drug Account

Four New York-based agencies are vying for creative and media duties on a new cholesterol drug from Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough, sources said.

The agencies are DDB, Grey Worldwide, Young & Rubicam and Robert A. Becker/Euro RSCG, according to sources. Becker specializes in pharmaceutical and health-care advertising.

Each shop has been asked to develop positioning and creative ideas. In addition, the client asked the participants to draw up a budget for the new, as yet-unnamed brand, sources said. Pitches are scheduled for early December. The agencies either declined comment or could not be reached.

Citing competitors in the category, such as Pfizer’s Lipitor, which plans to spend $70 million next year, sources estimate that the Merck-Schering account will be worth $50-70 million. The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck, which is steering the review, could not be reached by press time.

In May, Merck and Madison, N.J.-based Schering said that, under an alliance, they would develop a combination of Merck’s cholesterol reducer Zocor and ezetimibe, an experimental compound from Schering. Zocor is already Merck’s largest-selling drug, with an estimated $2.6 billion in sales last year.

The launch of the new drug, which still needs the Food and Drug Administration’s approval, could be at least a year away, said sources.

Another drug company, Astra-Zeneca, also is moving to launch a new cholesterol-reducing drug—one claiming to be more effective with less potential for adverse side effects. Lipitor, which has been on the market for years, is one of Pfizer’s top sellers.

Y&R’s experience with pharmaceutical brands ranges from Merck’s Propecia hair-loss remedy to Merck’s flu drug Tamiflu. DDB handles Merck’s Vioxx, an arthritis reliever, while Grey works on Glaxo Wellcome’s Flonase.

Besides Schering, Becker has worked for companies that include Glaxo, American Home Products, Hoffman-LaRoche and Bristol-Myers Squibb.