At a glance: Firms prepare to promote COPD pipeline drugs

The ABPI published a report last week that suggested a wide range of new treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory condition affecting the cardiovascular system, were in development. Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are among the companies involved.

So this was a bit of trumpet-blowing for the pharma industry?
Partly, yes. But there is an important point to it: an estimated three million people in the UK have the condition and two-thirds of sufferers may not know they are afflicted. At its extreme, people struggle to catch their breath even while sitting still, but coughing and wheezing are the most common manifestations. The sector is a mix of anti-inflammatories that treat the condition itself, and bronchodilators that relieve the symptoms.

Who's doing PR for products already on the market?
There are several products. For example, Ketchum handles UK PR for one of the biggest earners, GSK's Seretide.

Porter Novelli holds the account for Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim's joint-marketed drug Spiriva, while Shire Health International has the global account.

AstraZeneca's inhaler brand Symbicort is promoted in the UK by Munro & Forster Communications, and global work is handled by Cohn & Wolfe.

What is the PR focus?
Since many sufferers' problems are respiratory, smokers - and those who have quit - are obvious PR targets. Giving up cigarettes is the only thing that will radically alter the disease's progress, although there is no sign that even the products in development can reverse it. Unlike the liver, the human lung lacks capacity for self-repair in adulthood.

So what are the alternatives?
Pulmonary rehabilitation; that is, non-medical treatment involving lifestyle changes such as taking more exercise, is one. Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim have this year sponsored an exercise DVD aimed at sufferers, which is free to primary care practitioners.

What's the size of the sector?
Tens of thousands die from COPD each year. Datamonitor estimates that the global market in respiratory drugs, which includes COPD as well as asthma and hayfever, will reach £14.5bn by 2015.

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