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New drug helps allergies

The new drug Clarinex is coming on the market with an advertising blitz--but no proof it works better than older allergy drugs. "Billions of seasonal allergies, one tiny blue pill," proclaim ads from //manufacturer Schering-Plough Corp.

Schering-Plough makes Claritin, the nation's best-selling prescription allergy drug. In November, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to switch Claritin to over-the-counter drug. A month's supply, which now costs about $85, could drop to about $15. Moreover, Schering-Plough's Claritin patent is expected to expire in April, enabling competitors to sell generic versions for even less than $15.

Clarinex is a slightly altered form of Claritin. Within one hour of taking Claritin, the body turns its active ingredient, loratadine, into the active ingredient of Clarinex, desloratadine. Claritin works for between 18 hours and 24 hours. Indeed, Claritin's recommended dose is one pill a day.

With Claritin's $2.8 billion in sales expected to plummet, Schering-Plough is trying to switch patients to Clarinex. In addition to running television, print and Internet ads, the company is selling Clarinex at 20% less than Claritin's price. In order to get Clarinex approved by the FDA, Schering-Plough needed only to prove the drug works better than a placebo, or sugar pill.

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