Merck pulls plug on Vioxx; rivals step up promo efforts

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In the wake of Merck's decision to withdraw Vioxx because of unfavorable clinical trials data, Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim/Abbot Laboratories have stepped up efforts to promote their respective rival COX-2 inhibitors, Celebrex and Mobic.
Pfizer this week placed a full-page advertisement in The New York
Times positioning Celebrex as a safe alternative to Vioxx, while
Ingelheim/Abbot booked space in the Wall Street Journal, promoting a 30-day free trial of Mobic to consumers with a prescription.
Merck had pulled the plug on Vioxx because of recently emerged
clinical trials data showing a link between the blockbuster drug and
increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Vioxx, a key product in Merck's portfolio, is taken by 2 million people
worldwide and reached sales of approximately $2.5 billion in 2003.
While its removal from the market could give a healthy boost to competitors like Celebrex and Bextra (also manufactured by Pfizer), question marks surround the risks of the category as a whole, and all COX-2 drugs will come under increased scrutiny by the FDA.
The withdrawal of Vioxx tops off years of questions over the safety of the drug. "We have been concerned and aware for quite a few years about the risk," Dr. Steven Galson, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said during an FDA conference call with reporters. "This is not a surprise."
Prior to Merck's decision to pull the product from pharmacy shelves,
Pfizer had been planning for a new advertising campaign to break this fall.That account is being handled by Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler. Professional advertising for Vioxx was handled by FCB Healthcare, with DDB Worldwide holding the consumer account.
The withdrawal of Vioxx may also have an impact on Merck pipeline
drug Arcoxia, an anti-inflammatory that was to be Vioxx's successor.The FDA is expected to make a decision
on Arcoxia by Oct. 30.
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