Pharmaceutical giants pounce on former users of banished Baycol

NEW YORK: Pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, Merck, Novartis and

Bristol-Myers Squibb have amped up efforts to attract users of the

withdrawn Bayer drug, Baycol, that has been linked to 31 deaths.



Baycol was prescribed to 700,000 people in the US. In 2000,

cholesterol-lowering statin drugs made $9 billion in revenue.

Pfizer's Lipitor was first with $4 billion, and Baycol was the

smallest-selling, generating $221 million.



Within two days of the recall, Bristol-Myers and Novartis had placed ads

in USA Today, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, offering

Baycol users free 30- and 60-day trial samples of their drugs.



Merck, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers also updated their websites to answer

questions about Baycol.



Pfizer, through Lipitor's PR firm Ketchum, has expanded its PR effort to

attract Baycol users. The efforts include free cholesterol screenings

for 200,000 people by the end of the year. Pfizer will also create new

consumer educational materials highlighting the need for early diagnosis

of high cholesterol levels.



Meanwhile, Public Citizen, a consumer advocate group, wants the FDA to

mandate a warning guide to be handed out with statin drug

prescriptions.



"We want to ensure that consumers are aware of the risks that these

drugs pose before they rush to the doctor for them," said Larry Sasich,

pharmacist and research associate for Public Citizen.



Bayer had to postpone its planned August 16 listing on the New York

Stock Exchange until September 26. In Europe, Bayer shares have risen

steadily amid rumors it will sell the pharmaceutical arm of its company.



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