Sanofi’s Questionable Allergy Test

Sanofi’s Questionable Allergy Test

September 29th, 2011 // 12:47 pm @

Here’s a way to generate consumer interest in your over-the-counter allergy medicine – strike a deal with a supermarket chain that agrees to offer free allergy tests. Results are mailed within three weeks and those who test positive to such common allergens as wheat, egg, cat dander, ragweed or timothy grass get a personalized “Allergy Plan with action items to help alleviate symptoms.”

This marketing plan is being pursued by Sanofi, which sells an over-the-counter version of the Allegra pill, and Giant Eagle, which runs 222 groceries (see this). The deal comes just six months after the drugmaker began selling its OTC version, which competes with OTC versions of Zyrtec and Claritin, and reflects its reason for paying $1.9 billion nearly two years ago for the Chattem consumer goods maker.

This competition means, of course, that Sanofi must work hard to win shelf space and customers, especially after Consumer Reports recently determined that the new OTC Allegra is “no better than similar drugs already on the market and costs more,” and recommended that allergy sufferers might do better trying a generic version or OTC versions of Claritin (see here).

On the surface, striking a deal with Giant Eagle may make sense, but one expert says there are a couple of hitches. For one, the sort of screening being conducted is not the preferred method. And while over-the-counter Allegra is approved for symptoms due to upper respiratory allergies or hay fever, the pill is not approved to treat symptoms caused by allergies to food (read here).

“In the hands of an allergy specialist, skin patch testing in the doctor’s office is the accepted practice for determining sensitivity to aero-allergens. Blood tests, such as RAST testing, are secondary,” says Donald Kay Riker, who runs OnPoint Advisors, a consumer healthcare products consulting firm; editor of OTC Product News; a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and a former Chattem executive.

“Screening for sensitivity to allergens using blood immunochemistry, while a curiosity, can produce false negatives. In addition, screening for food allergens in conjunction with promoting OTC antihistamines suggests that these indications are approved indications for OTC antihistamines and can be self-treated. This is a dangerous assumption.”

In other words, this promotion is nothing to sneeze at. By offering free tests, Sanofi may, indeed, raise awareness of Allegra, with or without any couponing. But this approach may also give the wrong impression to consumers, some of whom may be encouraged to needlessly purchase Allegra. We asked Sanofi for an explanation, but have not heard back. If we do, we will update you accordingly.

UPDATE: A Sanofi spokesman has called to say that the allergy testing program is run by the Giant Eagle supermarket chain and, therefore, maintained that the drugmaker did not have control over the allergens for which consumers would be tested.

Source: Pharmalot

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