The new product in the Zyrtec (cetirizine) range is the first alternative to liquids or tablets/capsules for use in children, according to the companies. It provides an alternative dosage route for children who do not want to swallow tablets and avoids the need to measure out liquid doses, which can be difficult when the child is away from home.
The chewable tablet comes in a grape flavour and is aimed at children in the 6 to 12 age group, although it has been approved to treat hayfever and hives in children as young as two. It will also be marketed in the US by Pfizer.
Meanwhile, the new formulation could go some way to limit the impact of the US expiry of patent protection on Zyrtec, due in 2007, although as the antihistamine market is undergoing significant change at present this is hard to gauge.
Schering-Plough's Claritin (loratadine) was the first major product in the second-generation category to go off-patent, and after making sales of $2.7 billion in 2001, switched the product to over-the-counter (OTC) status the following year after managed care groups complained to the US Food and Drug Administration that its price was too high.
Claritin's switch to OTC status took a lot of users out of the prescription bracket - doubling the US OTC market to $212 million in first-half 2003 in the process, according to data from market research firm Frost & Sullivan. And a similar pattern could emerge when Aventis' Allegra (fexofenadine) loses patent protection, likely later this year or early next.