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Taking on Supplements-Vascepa

It is interesting when you contrast the regulations for benefit claims for prescription drugs and OTC supplements. We all know the unproven health claims made for most supplement brands. They often have a tiny super on screen that says these claims have not been evaluated by FDA. Contrast that with prescription drugs which are regulated where every word is parsed over by regulators.

It is rare a prescription drug takes on the supplement industry directly. Vascepa is a drug that treats high triglycerides. Many OTC fish oils make claims about heart health. Amarin, the maker of Vascepa, offers a highly purified fish oil that did clinical studies on triglyceride reduction. In their latest Vascepa campaign, they are aggressively taking on the fish oil supplements for effectiveness.

The first campaign in 2018 did not compare Vascepa to competitive OTC supplements. The launch ad just introduced Vascepa and referenced that there are unapproved competing supplements. Vascepa must have seen data that showed consumers and payers needed more convincing that a prescription is needed instead of an OTC. Hence the latest Vascepa campaign talks the negative effects of some OTC fish oils that can raise bad cholesterol. It is a good strategy to show that OTC fish oil may actually be harmful to heart health if bad cholesterol increases.

Vascepa is contrasting its capsule by showing the purity of its drug as evidenced by the clear liquid vs. the yellowish fish oil. Amarin references its extensive R&D and clinical studies to contrast with fish oil supplements unapproved by FDA for triglyceride reduction. The patients are shown in a super modern looking clinic discussing Vascepa with their doctor. This is done to add emphasis to the cutting-edge science of Vascepa.

The regular price of Vascepa is not mentioned in the ads. This is a potential issue with consumers once they get a prescription and go to the drug store to fill it. Vascepa is expensive versus OTC alternatives. The retail cost is about $2.50 a pill versus $.05-.20 per pill for most OTC products. Insurers are likely reluctant to cover Vascepa fully given the hundreds of cheap OTC alternatives. The DTC ad probably helps Amarin get formulary coverage as insurers know patients and doctors will be requesting reimbursement. They do have a price support deal for new customers.

The latest DTC campaign is designed to basically say that when it comes to reducing triglycerides, go with a brand you can trust, one that has been researched fully, and had claims validated by FDA. This is a very interesting case study of how to take on OTC supplements which compete across many Rx categories.

Bob Ehrlich
DTC Perspectives, Inc.

Bob Ehrlich
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at DTC Perspectives
Bob Ehrlich has over 20 years marketing experience in pharmaceutical and consumer products. Bob is the CEO of DTC Perspectives, Inc., a DTC services company founded in 2000. DTC Perspectives, Inc. developed the DTC National Conference, the largest DTC conference in the industry. DTC Perspectives, Inc. also publishes DTC Perspectives, a quarterly journal dedicated to DTC issues and practices. In addition DTC Perspectives, Inc. does DTC consulting for established and emerging companies, and provides DTC marketing plans for pharmaceutical companies.
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