Icos and Lilly try a novel drug pitch

The makers of Cialis have been saying for more than six months they think customers will like their drug for erectile dysfunction better than the competitors, Viagra and Levitra.
But now Bothell-based Icos and its partner Eli Lilly are doing more than talk. In what is believed to be a first for the pharmaceutical industry, the companies today are starting a national ad campaign that offers to buy patients one of the competing drugs if they aren’t completely satisfied with their first sample of Cialis.

The ads, which describe “The Cialis Promise,” are scheduled to run today in national newspapers and on TV programs commonly watched by men — news, sports and business.

The drug, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in November, first started appearing in TV commercials in January.

Icos and Lilly say the promotion will be a limited-time offer, and they can pull the plug at any point.

The new tactic comes at a point when Cialis’ growing share of the erectile-dysfunction market has started to flatten in the midteens. Some investors also are questioning the amount spent marketing the drug, and Icos stock has fallen 39 percent for the year.

Icos Chief Executive Paul Clark said he’s confident the tactic will resonate with new customers and that the company won’t have to pay out very much to the competition.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Clark said. “We think we have a great product. It makes a statement. You can have all kinds of spin and marketing and say whatever you want, but this shows how confident we are.”

The company already has tried an experimental version of the program, which it didn’t widely publicize. From February to May, it sent 150,000 Cialis vouchers to doctors who frequently prescribe Viagra.

Icos spokeswoman Lacy Fitzpatrick said about 17,000 of those coupons were redeemed for Cialis. She would not say how many patients switched to the competition after they buy Cialis but said “the overwhelming majority” stuck with it.

Still, in the broader market, many patients are sticking with the more established Viagra. The latest market-share figures from IMS Health, for the last week of June, said Cialis had 14 percent of the American erectile-dysfunction market, Levitra had 11.9 percent, and the original Viagra had 74 percent.

Some analysts say they had expected Cialis and Levitra each to grab at least 20 percent of the U.S. market after six months. Cialis did that well when it was introduced in Europe.

Paul Latta, an analyst with McAdams Wright Ragen who has long been bullish about the drug’s prospects, said he’s been disappointed with Cialis’ U.S. market share. Unless something improves soon, he said, he may have to reconsider whether the drug can reach his projection of $600 million in worldwide sales this year.

“Most people thought we’d see more than a quarter’s worth of growth before it started to plateau,” said Latta, who doesn’t own the stock and whose firm hasn’t done investment banking with the company.

John Mack, publisher of Pharma Marketing News in Newtown, Penn., said the program probably will grab the attention of consumers as a bold move, but could backfire.

He said offering the competing drug could drown out the main selling point that Cialis has made for months — that it lasts longer than the other drugs, up to 36 hours, and provides the opportunity for romance when the moment seems right.

“That’s their claim to fame, and maybe it’s not working as well as they thought. If I was a competitor, I’d look at it as a desperate move,” he said