Weber Shandwick nets global Lipitor business

NEW YORK: Pfizer has awarded the global account for Lipitor, the world's biggest-selling drug, to IPG agency Weber Shandwick, after working for two-and-a-half years with a WPP consortium called WPP Health Success.

NEW YORK: Pfizer has awarded the global account for Lipitor, the world's biggest-selling drug, to IPG agency Weber Shandwick, after working for two-and-a-half years with a WPP consortium called WPP Health Success.

Paul Fitzhenry, senior director of corporate media relations at Pfizer, confirmed that WS won the business, but declined to discuss it any further. News of the RFP broke in early October. WS' global healthcare president Laura Schoen declined to comment on the win.

Lipitor, a cholesterol drug, had global sales of $11.58 billion in the 12 months up to July 2006, according to IMS Health, making it the world's biggest-selling drug.

Pfizer's selection of an agency for Lipitor came during a news-heavy week for both the company and the drug. The US Court of Appeals denied a hearing on a 2005 case that confirmed Pfizer's patent for the Lipitor active ingredient atorvastatin, which ensures that Pfizer will not face generic competition for its drug until 2010. But its planned replacement drug, torcetrapib, has hit roadblocks in FDA acceptance, with delays threatening to postpone its market date to 2011.

Analysts are unambiguous about the drug's importance to Pfizer.

"Going into June there was tremendous fear that Lipitor was going to get blown up and therefore Pfizer's earnings as well, and here we are with Lipitor beating estimates," Deutsche Bank analyst Barbara Ryan told Reuters on October 19.

Pfizer didn't disclose why it chose WS, but the firm also recently won a global account for its planned Lipitor combination statin - torcetrapib/atorvastatin (T/A), which is positioned as a better option than Lipitor for some patients.

Rebecca Hamm, Pfizer PR director, told PRWeek in September that the T/A account was a one-year, global account.

Additionally, WS hired Amy Delmore, previously a senior media relations specialist with Pfizer Health Solutions, as Chicago-based VP in March. Delmore also previously worked on the Lipitor PR team while at Ketchum.

Politicians have likewise included the drug in their campaigns as the mid-term election season reaches its conclusion. Both candidates in Minnesota's senatorial race have evoked Lipitor in debating who cares more about affordable senior health.

While Lipitor is the best-selling cholesterol drug, Vytorin, a drug combination from Merck and Schering-Plough, is the fastest-growing cholesterol drug in the $22 billion market, according to Bloomberg News. The pharma giants promoted Vytorin in the first half of 2006 through a reported $72 million in advertising, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, the second highest amount of money spent on a drug during that time.

In late 2003, Pfizer asked the three largest holding companies, WPP, Interpublic, and Omnicom, to assemble cross-brand PR teams to pitch for its cardiovascular franchise, which included Lipitor, Caduet, and Norvasc.

Omnicom eventually dropped out of the running, and WPP won the business by creating WPP Health Success, which was staffed primarily by Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller, but with help from Hill & Knowlton and Feinstein Kean Healthcare, as well.

The review was for Lipitor alone, not as part of the whole cardiovascular category. A source says that Feinstein Kean continues to support Caduet in the US and Burson supports Caduet globally, but Fitzhenry would not confirm this in October.

Other agencies that were reportedly pitching include Fleishman-Hillard, APCO Worldwide, and GCI Group.

The account change came at the same time as the news that Hitachi Data Systems was also reviewing its PR business, after working with another WPP-wide organization since 2005.

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