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Faster-acting aspirin is Bayer's Rx for flat sales

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 11:17am
LINDA A. JOHNSON - AP Business Writer - Associated Press

Bayer is looking for a speedy remedy for stagnant aspirin sales.

The company whose name is synonymous with the pain reliever is introducing a reformulated aspirin Monday that works in half the time of its regular aspirin.

Bayer says its aspirin is now better-known for preventing heart attack and stroke than for its pain reliever roots. Bayer AG says it needed to revitalize the brand and target younger customers. Expanding the demographic of users is key to budging Bayer's 14.6 percent market share.

Scientists at Bayer Consumer Care's Morristown, N.J., headquarters worked for five years to address consumers' No. 1 complaint: The aspirin doesn't work fast enough.

Bayer Advanced Aspirin was tested in multiple sites on dental patients who'd just had wisdom teeth extracted.

Dr. Eric R. First, head of new product development for Bayer AG's consumer care unit, said 500 milligrams of the new aspirin started working in 16 minutes and brought "meaningful pain relief" in 49, on average, compared with 100 minutes for the same dosage of regular Bayer.

The company is still arranging to publish its research. It has not tested the new aspirin against other pain relievers.

Faster relief can keep pain from escalating to the point where more medication and other remedies like ice are needed to get it under control, said Micke Brown, a pain management nurse and spokeswoman for the American Pain Foundation.

When someone is in pain, she said, "100 minutes has to seem like forever."

In 1897, Bayer chemist Felix Hoffmann in Germany synthesized the first stable powder form of acetylsalicylic acid, derived from a plant substance used since 400 BC to relieve pain and fever. Bayer began distributing aspirin powder in 1899, then sold tablets to the public starting in 1915.

In 1988, aspirin was approved in low doses to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Bayer did such a great job promoting that, "people have kind of forgotten about the fact that pain is our heritage," said Barton J. Warner, head of U.S. marketing for Bayer Consumer Care.

So Bayer is aiming to remind consumers its aspirin also works well for killing pain. Most of its customers are around age 60; it's now targeting 40-somethings.

Dubbed Pro-Release Technology, it uses aspirin micro-particles about a tenth the size of those in standard Bayer in tablets that dissolve and enter the bloodstream much more quickly.

"We're able to combine the brand people trust with the latest technology," Warner said.

Bayer Advanced Aspirin is now arriving on shelves in a bright purple box instead of its standard yellow package. The company said it's priced "competitively" with other premium pain relievers, at $3.89 to $11.99 depending on dosage and quantity. That's about 15 percent more than regular Bayer costs. Store brand aspirin is even cheaper.

Edward Jones analyst Linda Bannister expects it to be a tough sell. Consumers are reaching for store brands more often. Sales of store brands grew from nearly 23 percent in 2007 to 32 percent of the $1.2 billion in U.S. sales in the 12 months through March, figures from health data firm IMS Health show.

The shift was accelerated by Johnson & Johnson's drop in share from about 31 percent in 2007 to barely 19 percent, after repeated recalls kept its Tylenol and Motrin off store shelves. Bayer's market share barely budged over that time.

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