At a glance: Wyeth to shake up contraceptive market

What’s happening? Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is looking to launch an oral contraceptive, called Lybrel, which combines the chemicals levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol.

But this is a common combination. What's so special?
Lybrel is a once-daily drug, which would stop periods altogether (ovulation returns when users cease taking it, according to tests).

Most oral contraceptives require a woman to take them for 21 days, then have a week's break – or take a placebo for those seven days – during which menstruation occurs. Analysts suggest that global sales of Lybrel could reach £170m.

What about rival contraceptive products?
The combined pill is the most commonly prescribed and has the lowest failure rate (two or three per 100 users per year). There are many available: for example, Wyeth already produces Ovranette –
which the company says it does not actively promote – while Schering manufactures the brands Microgynon and Eugynon.

Which agencies are involved in PR in this sector?
Wyeth told PRWeek it was too early to discuss agency support for promoting Lybrel as and when it hits the UK market. But Munro & Forster Communications (M&F) already handles PR for Organon's Cerazette which, like Lybrel, is taken daily with no break. The Red Consultancy, meanwhile, does consumer media relations for another of Schering's contraceptive pills, Yasmin, while M&F also holds the account for Organon's contraceptive Marvelon.

So what is promotional work for Lybrel likely to include?
Convenience is one aspect, since it would remove the need to remember the timing of the week's break from the pill each month. More than that, it should stop the hormonal fluctuations from which some pill users suffer. The complete elimination of periods may be very attractive to some women. Initial data show that the new drug is as effective in preventing pregnancy as existing treatments.

What's the timescale?
Lybrel is currently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration in the US, where it could be launched by the middle of next year.

A UK and European launch is likely to follow.

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