Athena wins Novartis UK launch for arthritis drug

Novartis is to step up the UK PR effort behind Prexige – its yet-to-launch arthritis treatment that is set to challenge brands including Pfizer’s Celebrex and Merck, Sharp & Dohme’s Vioxx.

The Swiss pharma giant has appointed Athena Medical PR on the first UK PR contract for Prexige, which is likely to launch next year.

Athena beat Chandler Chicco Agency and Ketchum in a pitch for the contract, which carries fees likely to be in excess of £300,000.

Prexige is in the class of drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – the same class as Celebrex, Vioxx, Pfizer’s Bextra and MSD’s Arcoxia.

Athena managing director Cherry Wood, who leads a six-strong account team, said PR was likely to include professional relations and media relations, and that ‘developing brand advocates for the launch will be essential’.

Prexige was approved by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for symptomatic relief of osteoarthritis and short-term relief of moderate to severe acute pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea, dental surgery and orthopedic surgery last September.

The MHRA approval was the first European approval for Prexige and will act as the reference member state in the European Union’s mutual recognition procedure.

Ketchum continues to be Novartis’s retained global agency for Prexige and its account is not under review.

In a bid to prove Prexige is better than existing brands, Novartis has undertaken a worldwide clinical trial of 18,000 arthritis sufferers. Results of the trial are due towards the end of the year.

Osteoarthritis, a non-inflammatory degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis and is one of the most frequent causes of disability in adults.

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