Allegra's OTC switch could make it a big player in market

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Though Schering-Plough’s — now Merck’s — Claritin and Johnson & Johnson’s Zyrtec product lines have dominated the over-the-counter antihistamine market, the big share of the prescription antihistamine market held by Sanofi-Aventis’ Allegra (fexofenadine hydrochloride) could give it a battering ram to bust in as well, thanks to the big break Sanofi got in the form of a Food and Drug Administration approval of an OTC switch for the drug.

(THE NEWS: Sanofi successfully switches Allegra. For the full story, click here)

On the subject of big-ticket mergers and acquisitions in the drug industry, the entry of Pfizer and Merck into the biotech industry with their respective purchases of Wyeth and Schering-Plough — as well as French drug maker Sanofi’s efforts to acquire Genzyme — has been the dominant theme as the business model of developing widely used blockbuster drugs has begun to collapse due to generic competition.

But the three companies also have sought to drive growth by entering the OTC market, with Sanofi getting into the business through its purchase of Chattem. That acquisition will give it the necessary expertise and market access to turn Allegra into a major player in the OTC antihistamine market once it becomes available in March.