NEW YORK: Chandler Chicco Agency (CCA) has walked away with the account for a drug that is being hailed as the next blockbuster for Pfizer.
The agency will oversee all global PR activity for varenicline, a yet-unapproved smoking-cessation drug that relieves nicotine cravings and reduces withdrawal symptoms.
CCA won the business after a competitive pitch against two undisclosed firms. It is the first agency to represent the drug.
"It's really going to be as big as Viagra for the company," predicted Lisa Stockman, who is leading the account for CCA in the US.
The selection of CCA, an independent, mid-size healthcare shop, may also signal a strategic shift for the pharmaceutical giant and its PR strategy.
Pfizer made headlines early last year when it chose the WPP holding company, rather than a single agency, to oversee PR for its cardiovascular-drug franchise. The decision sparked concern among independent and boutique agencies.
But sources say Pfizer is not convinced that the arrangement represents an ideal model, and speculate that the CCA hire -as well as the recent decision to consolidate the pain franchise under Ogilvy PR - might mark the return to a more traditional approach to agency selection.
But Paul Ewing, director of PR at Pfizer, denied the speculation. "We had a mix of agencies come in," he said. "[CCA] showcased the right mix of market insights" and creative ideas.
Stockman noted that CCA is "thrilled" to win the account. "Pfizer was one of our very first clients, and we've always had them as a client," she said.
The agency currently works on the Zoloft, Geodon, and Xanax accounts in the US.
But Pfizer is not the only company developing a highly anticipated drug that might help smokers break the habit. Sanofi-Aventis is currently testing a drug called Acomplia for both smoking cessation and obesity.
Stockman noted that Pfizer is currently "seeding the market" ahead of approval.
"There's a lot of education that needs to be done around smoking cessation," she said.
Varenicline is in phase 3 clinical trials. "Most people who try to quit relapse in a couple of weeks," Ewing said, adding that more than half of smokers in a phase 2 trial kicked the habit.
Forbes last year included varenicline on a list of five "neurological drugs to watch," estimating that it has sales potential between $1 billion to $2 billion.
The drug is one of 12 new compounds Pfizer hopes will compensate for the patent-protection loss on what have been several high-earning products.