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MedImmune To Try New FluMist Tactic

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MedImmune Inc.
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By Michael Barbaro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2004; Page E01

MedImmune Inc., trying to revive sales of FluMist, yesterday said it would slash the price of the nasal spray influenza vaccine by nearly half, ditch its consumer marketing campaign and focus on winning over skeptical doctors.

The new strategy represents a major reversal for the Gaithersburg biotechnology company, which launched FluMist last year with $25 million in television and print advertising and a hefty price tag on the assumption that consumers would pay more for fewer aches and less pain.

Most didn't. Although MedImmune manufactured 4 million doses of FluMist for its debut season, it sold fewer than 500,000. The company is developing a second version of the vaccine it hopes will reach the market by 2007 and said it expects modest sales until then.

Beginning this fall, the company will charge medical professionals $23.50 a dose for FluMist rather than $46, its first-year price. Consumers are likely to pay more after doctors and pharmacists tack on administration fees.

The company said it will manufacture between 1 million and 2 million doses of the vaccine for this year's flu season, which begins in September.

Armando Anido, MedImmune's senior vice president of commercial operations, said the first-year approach faltered because the vaccine was too expensive and doctors who could prescribe the needle-free vaccine "didn't fully understand what FluMist was."

FluMist, the first nasal flu vaccine, contains a live but weakened flu virus, confusing some doctors accustomed to the standard shot, which contains a dead version of the virus. This year, MedImmune will focus aggressively on winning over physicians.

"We are going back to basics," Anido said in an interview. He said MedImmune failed to explain to doctors how FluMist worked and to convince them it was safe "before we blasted out with a direct-to-consumer marketing campaign."

The new strategy leaves several big issues unresolved. Because FluMist contains a live virus, which could infect those with weak immune systems, FluMist is approved only for people ages 5 to 49, the segment of the population least likely to use a flu vaccine .

In addition, doctors and pharmacists have complained that the vaccine must be kept frozen until shortly before use. "We are not sure we will have improvement on the storage until a new formula comes out," Anido said.

Medimmune is trying to address both issues with its new vaccine.

Wyeth Vaccines, a unit of pharmaceutical giant Wyeth Ltd., co-marketed FluMist during its debut but pulled out of its agreement with MedImmune in April. MedImmune was forced to seek a new distributor in time for this year's flu season.

MedImmune yesterday said it hired Henry Schein Inc. of Melville, N.Y., to distribute FluMist and market the vaccine to primary care physicians. MedImmune will use its own sales force to sell the vaccine to pediatricians and pharmacies.

As it shifts its focus to doctors, MedImmune said it will not run TV or print advertisements. During its debut, MedImmune ran costly TV commercials emphasizing the burdens of the flu with the slogan, "Who would replace you if you got the flu?"

Anido said the company will not make another direct pitch to consumers "until we feel comfortable that the prescribing community feels good about the vaccine."

Phillip Nadeau, a biotechnology analyst at S.G. Cowen Securities Corp., noted MedImmune's low expectations for FluMist until a new version hits the market. But he said the lower price "should increase consumer demand."

MedImmune's stock closed at $24.48, down 30 cents, or 1 percent.


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