Don't blame DTC for dismal Rozerem sales

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Rozerem sales were up 78% in the first quarter, and Takeda expects 2007 sales of the insomnia drug to surpass advertising costs.

That would be a first, as the company has spent more on consumer promotion—$100 million annually since consumer launch in July 2006—than it has reaped in sales.

Rozerem has less than 3% of the US market, according to IMS Health figures cited by the Tribune. Sanofi-Aventis' Ambien and Ambien-CR have about 77% of the market, followed by Sepracor's Lunesta with about 16%.

Takeda is still spending less on ads than Sanofi-Aventis and Sepracor, though. In the first three months of this year, its DTC outlay hit $40 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence, but sales were only $26 million during the period.

Even though the Rozerem safety profile edges out competitors', its non-sedating quality has not been a hit with consumers. People who take a sleep aid want to be knocked out, something they can't expect the first time they take Rozerem.

“We seem to have a different mind-set when it comes to sleep medications,” a physician with the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorder Center told the Tribune.

Tales of sleep-bingeing and other strange nocturnal behavior led the FDA to ask drug makers to put new warnings on Rx insomnia products. Cost pressures too may be eating into brand-drug sales, now that generic Ambien is available. Reuters is reporting that Sepracor raised the price of Lunesta by 9% to help dull the impact of weaker demand.

What to do about Rozerem’s sluggish uptake? Analysts say the DTC campaign is not the problem, that it’s breaking through with consumers. IAG Research found that Rozerem's latest creative effort—featuring Abe Lincoln, a talking beaver and a deep-sea diver sitting at a bus stopclaimed the No. 4 spot on the list of the top five most-recalled new Rx drug ads. Which leads to speculation as to whether personal promotion is pulling its weight. “The obstacle may be at the doctor's office.”

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