Publicis Healthcare Communications Group (PHCG) is hoping to return to growth after a tame 2012, its CEO said. At an Investor Day gathering in London for holding company Publicis Groupe, Nick Colucci, president and CEO, said, “Last year was the only year [PHCG] didn’t grow in the last three.

“The two [years] before that, we grew nicely,” Colucci told analysts, crediting much of that to contract sales force company Publicis Touchpoint Solutions.

To return to growth, Colucci cited three drivers: the network’s digital business, pharma efforts to extend the patent life of products, and emerging markets.

PHCG’s digital agencies-of-record include Razorfish Healthware, formed from the merger of Razorfish Health and Publicis Healthware; Digitas Health; and Rosetta.

The network’s geographic mix is shifting. Emerging markets now account for 15% of business, Colucci said, with another 60-65% of the business in North America.

While new drugs are not coming at the rate they did in the past, Colucci acknowledged, “We believe there’s more opportunity in leveraging brands further into the marketplace.” As an example, he cited Nexium, whose Purple Pill persona was created by Saatchi & Saatchi.

The drug is vying to move from Rx status to OTC ahead of expiry in 2014. Pfizer is slated to launch the OTC version, following an agreement with the pill’s originator, AstraZeneca.

PHCG told MM&M that Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett handles the Pfizer-OTC advertising business, while Saatchi retains the Rx Nexium account.

Profits in PHCG’s educational and contract sales segments are below those of the Groupe. While the network has “struggled” with its footprint in Europe, Colucci said, it’s starting to see an uptick in global markets, particularly the UK.