MM&M All-Stars: Marketing Team of the Year, Large Pharma

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For cholesterol drug Vytorin, success has come in pairs. A dual mechanism of action, a harmonious partnership between Merck and Schering-Plough, and twin-themed creative combined to help Vytorin more than double growth last year.

Since its launch in 2004, Vytorin has become the fastest growing product in the highly competitive cholesterol market. US sales hit $1.33 billion through the first 10 months of 2006, according to IMS Health.

Vytorin, a combination of Merck's Zocor and Schering-Plough's Zetia, inhibits the production of cholesterol in both the liver (Zocor) and small intestine (Zetia). “This gives us a tremendous platform to communicate,” says Deepak Khanna, VP/ GM, Merck/Schering-Plough marketing team.

DTC ads from DDB Worldwide explain how Vytorin treats the two sources of cholesterol: food and family. Relatives are juxtaposed with foods they call to mind.

“You can't advertise your way to success,” says Michael Matin, Schering-Plough's executive director of marketing, US cholesterol franchise. “The reason the product is successful is it offers market-leading efficacy, unsurpassed tolerability, and it's widely reimbursed by managed care.”

True, but DDB's print and TV campaign has garnered praise and helped drive sales. Tamara Neufeld, DDB-NY management supervisor, says the creative reflects client and agency “passion for developing communications that are simultaneously highly educational and approachable.”

Studies show Vytorin lowers LDL better more than Pfizer's Lipitor, AstraZeneca's Crestor or Merck's Zocor. The joint venture hasn't been shy in trumpeting those results: better lowering than competitors is advertised across all channels, consumer and in physician-directed advertising by Corbett Accel's Surge Worldwide Healthcare Communications unit.

Differentiation is a foundation of good marketing. “This is a market that is about efficacy, lowering LDL and helping patients achieve their LDL-C goals,” says Khanna. “When you show them data on how your LDL-lowering gets more patients to goal versus your competitors, that's getting physicians information that is helpful.”

The MSP joint venture started in 2002 with the launch of Zetia. The two halves meet regularly to share strategies and best practices. “One of the hallmarks of our success is that we are really leveraging the strength of each company,” says Matin. The team is highly cross-functional, where marketing collaborates closely with clinical, regulatory, sales, agency and managed care colleagues. “They're part of the DNA of our day-to-day work,” Matin adds. “We spend an enormous amount of quality time together.”

Vytorin's introduction has not ravaged sales of MSP's other drug, Zetia, which saw a 25% jump in US sales to $1.1 billion from January through September 2006. Both products are achieving all-time highs in new and total prescriptions.

“Vytorin and Zetia live in different segments,” explains Matin, with Vytorin serving a need for patients who can't get their cholesterol down adequately through diet and exercise alone. If a patient cannot achieve cholesterol goal after starting with a statin, the strategy has been to add Zetia to therapy. Half of Zetia patients use it in combination with a statin, because adding the drug proves more efficacious than titrating the statin.

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