Prescription allergy drug Allegra has won federal approval for over-the-counter use as Chattanooga-based Chattem puts into place its biggest-ever marketing and distribution plan aiming for a March launch.
While Chattem heavily markets brands such as Icy Hot and Gold Bond, the Allegra rollout will surpass anything it has done in TV, print and digital, said Zan Guerry, Chattem's chief executive officer.
In an unexpected move, Chattem workers in the city are packaging at least 30 percent of Allegra, he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
"Speed is a necessity to getting it all done," he said, adding that Chattem is using parts of all three of its Chattanooga plants. "We're doing more here than originally anticipated."
While the packaging lines are fully automated, Guerry said Chattem has brought in temporary workers. He said there's "an excellent chance" Chattanooga will keep much of the packaging work.
"It's good long-term news for Chattanooga," Guerry said.
Allegra has provided allergy sufferers with relief of symptoms for nearly 15 years as a prescription medicine.
Chattem and its parent company, French pharmaceutical titan Sanofi-Aventis, announced Tuesday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Allegra family of allergy medication products for over-the-counter sales.
In addition, Allegra-D, which also relieves nasal congestion and sinus pressure, will be available without a prescription, the companies said.
Chattem, Sanofi's consumer health care division, was acquired by the Paris-based company for $1.9 billion in cash in a deal that closed in 2010.
* Allegra 24-hour and 12-hour tablets for adults and children 12 years and older
* Children's Allegra 12-hour tablets for 6 years and older, and liquid for children 2 and older
* Children's Allegra 12-hour orally disintegrating tablets for use by children 6 years of age and older
* Allegra-D 24-hour and 12-hour allergy and congestion extended release tablets, with a decongestant, for use in children 12 and above
Hanspeter Spek, Sanofi's president of global operations, said that leveraging its U.S. consumer health care platform to convert prescription medicines to OTC products is a key driver for company growth.
"The approval of Allegra for OTC use further validates our vision to increase our presence in the U.S. consumer health care market," he said in a statement.
Guerry said Sanofi officials are as excited than Chattem's.
"We're used to being in the consumer products business. To watch one of their babies get out as a prescription and head to OTC, they're excited," he said.
Guerry said Allegra will receive a strong retail presence in stores. One chain called the launch one its biggest over the next five years, he said.
"You'll see lots of displays in stores," he said. "It's getting a tremendous retail presence."
Guerry said it's projected Allegra's OTC annual sales could reach between $250 million and $350 million. That's about 50 percent to 60 percent of Chattem's existing sales, he said.
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