Packer Forbes replaces Resolute on Lilly remit

US drugs giant Eli Lilly has appointed Packer Forbes Communications to handle UK pre-launch PR for potential blockbuster anti-depressant Cymbalta, the much anticipated successor to its now off-patent Prozac.

The agency replaces Resolute Communications on the remit following a pitch against global PR giant Weber Shandwick – which continues as the product’s retained global agency – plus Munro & Forster and Shire Health London.

Clapham-based Packer Forbes, run by MD Alexa Forbes, was this week thrashing out a PR strategy for the brand, which could launch in the UK during 2005. The US launch of Cymbalta, widely seen as the most promising product in Lilly’s pipeline, is expected later this year.

On the break-up with Resolute Eli Lilly manager of product comms Jeff Smith said: ‘We agreed to change direction. This didn’t work out for either party.’

Resolute joint managing director Paul Blackburn said: ‘New opportunities for Resolute meant we had to make a “go or no go” decision for the launch of Cymbalta to be fair to our client and the product.’

Cymbalta hit the headlines two months ago in the US when a college student taking part in a clinical trial committed suicide. A board that oversees the drugs firm’s trials at Indiana University ordered Lilly to stop accepting new participants for the local trial of the drug.

The student’s suicide further fuelled the ongoing debate as to whether anti-depressants are associated with suicidal behaviour among children and teenagers.

Some analysts have forecast that sales of Cymbalta could top £1bn. The brand is likely to challenge Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor.

Like Wyeth’s Effexor, Cymbalta affects both serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters involved in depression. Prozac lost patent protection in 2001.

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