Opportunity knocks for OTC

With the NHS under severe financial pressure, self-medication is becoming more popular. Justin Bateman looks at the opportunities for drug companies. Justin Bateman is a marketing executive at IRI InfoScan. All data used is from IRI databases.

Attempts by the Government to reduce National Health Service bills by paying for fewer prescriptions have created an opportunity for drugs manufacturers. Medicines which previously could only be obtained through a doctor’s prescription, are being made available over the counter (OTC). GPs are saved from spending quite so much time treating minor ailments.

Self-medication markets are growing fast, and the move away from prescription-only drugs has contributed to this. The change by pharmaceutical manufacturers from Prescription Only Medicines (POM) to Pharmacist’s Approval (P) benefits these manufacturers and their categories by increasing sales. For example, anti-fungals, for so long a POM category, was first stimulated by Bayer’s deregulation of its Canesten product. The category was then galvanised by Pfizer’s Diflucan One (launched in l995) which, despite being a relatively expensive product, has proved to be enormously successful.

A further example was the arrival of Beconase onto the pharmacist’s approval list. The hayfever remedies market had been dominated by oral anti-histamine tablets which were primarily anti-allergy products. Alongside an eyedrop product such as Otrivine, these combated the effects of hayfever. However, once the steroidal-based Beconase became available through the pharmacist, it was an instant success as it targeted symptoms specific to seasonal allergies, as opposed to any allergy, and now holds a 17 per cent share of the category.

In the topical analgesics market, deregulation has meant the introduction of a variety of previously unavailable NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). The latest products to make an impression are Movelat, Traxam and Deep Relief. The combined effects of these brands have helped to expand the market by almost 5m over the past 12 months, mainly in the pharmacy sector. This is good news for the pharmacies at a time when grocers are taking over so much of the health and beauty aids market. For example, 80 per cent of toothpaste sales are made through grocers.

Analgesic brands and many others are still available with a doctor’s prescription, but larger quantities can now be provided at each visit.

The cost of more “serious” remedies (like Diflucan) is often offset by the convenience of being taken off prescription. With a price over 5.50, cold sore treatment Zovirax is far more costly than its nearest rival, Blisteze, which retails at about 1.85, but its anti-viral active ingredient is unique in the category and this is clearly enough to convince consumers of its worth. It currently represents 47 per cent of the cold sore treatment market in pack terms.

Medicated skincare is one area where the move from POM to P has had little effect. Whereas in many OTC categories more clinical products are beginning to dominate, a recent breakthrough in skincare is Johnson & Johnson’s Clean & Clear, which, to a certain extent, has redefined the market. In the past, the leading brands have been designed and marketed to fight spots, and while individual Biactol, Clearasil and Oxy products still lead the way, the preventative positioning of Clean & Clear is very popular – this range tops the category with a 14 per cent share, an increase of four per cent year on year.

Another anomaly in the POM to P success story is in the indigestion remedies sector. In a category dominated by non-clinical brands, Zantac 75 is not growing at the rate of less clinical brands such as Gaviscon or Rennie. It would appear that people are more wary of consuming products of which they have limited knowledge, particularly when the ailment in question is less serious.

In an attempt to loosen the stranglehold the two leading Stafford-Miller brands (Nytol and Nytol-One -A-Night) have on the sleeping aids category, Pfizer has recently launched Sleepia. Positioned as a gentle aid to a peaceful night’s sleep, it has created a neat niche between herbal sleeping aids and prescription “knock-out” pills and after only a couple of months on the market gained a two per cent share. This is a product which satisfies various consumer needs. First, it allows those who have trouble sleeping to purchase an effective sleeping aid without having to get a prescription, and second, its non-habit forming qualities are a less daunting option than standard sleeping pills.

One of the flipsides of the self-medication market is the continuing concern over the availability of large quantities of paracetamol in grocers and drugstores. As a growing number of paracetamol overdoses demonstrates, large-pack availability is not only unnecessary but dangerous. New Government legislation, effective from September 1998, means that in future, larger packs will only be available with a doctor’s prescription. While this may seem a step backwards, it is fair to point out that this appears to be the sole area where self-medication has posed a threat to the safety of the public.

A spokesman for Whitehall Laboratories, makers of Anadin, believes that in the short term, a decline in sales can be expected, but once home stocks have been consumed, the analgesics market will recover. In the longer term, there is likely to be an increase in the size of the market in terms of the amount spent, simply because smaller packs are not as cost-efficient as larger sizes. Another effect of the non-availability of the larger packs will be a shift in purchasing habits from pharmacy to grocery purchasing – prompted by convenience, which is a key factor.

While it is clear that the coming legislation will alter the shape of the paracetamol market, it is also felt that the ibuprofen market will change radically too. As there is no limit to the number of ibuprofen available per pack, it is reasonable to expect a sharp increase in the number of larger packs. Whether the legislation will have the desired effect however, only time will tell.

Despite the analgesics situation, the general picture is very positive and the public is proving that it can take responsibility in the self-medication sector.

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