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GSK uses web community site to aid Alli launch

UK pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has revealed it will use the web to differentiate its OTC weight loss treatment, Alli (orlistat), from other weight loss competitor products

UK pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has revealed it will use the web to differentiate its OTC weight loss treatment, Alli (orlistat), from other weight loss competitor products.

To educate consumers concerning the fact that long-term weight loss can only be achieved in combination with lifestyle changes, GSK is constructing its own web portal which the company compares with a social network or online community.

GSK will create content and build communities around the product, aiming for the successes achieved by Anheuser-Busch's Bud.TV campaign and the online community Nike has grown with

Alli, which will launch by the end of 2007, will use the web not only as a marketing conduit, but also as an essential component of the product. Alli will be marketed as a complement to a strict diet and exercise regimen and will consciously avoid any claims to the contrary.

Alli is the half-strength (60 mg) OTC reformulation of Swiss-based Roche's ethical drug, Xenical. Roche and GSK Consumer Healthcare signed a promotion agreement for the prescription weight loss medication Xenical (orlistat) in the US back in April 2005. GSK's right to sell its own OTC version stems from another agreement signed on 20 February 2007, which allows GSK to sell in markets outside the US, excluding Japan. GSK was rumoured to have paid USD 100 million (EUR 75.8 million) to secure the OTC rights to orlistat.

Steve Burton, vice-president of weight control for GSK's consumer healthcare division said that the OTC drug, which blocks fat production in the intestines, could increase weight loss by 50 per cent, but would only work if users commit to a regimen of proper eating and exercise by making long-term changes to diet and lifestyle on the six-month programme.

GSK's interactive agency, Dallas-based independent imc2, has built a web portal for Alli users that goes beyond providing product information, says the company. will be available to Alli users through a registration code on each packet.

Individualised programme tackles lack of health content
The site will collect the users' weight-loss profiles, build customised meal plans and provide feedback on progress. Visitors will then receive individually tailored advice, with the system sensing if they have hit a wall in their weight loss and need to adjust their daily calorie intake, for example. Message boards and blogs will permit users to support and encourage each other, with expert advice available.

"It truly is designed as a destination to help people not just educate themselves, but to help them along the way," said Beth Kuykendall, vice-president and managing director of imc2>

Although consumers are increasingly accessing the web for health information, there is evidence of a lack of content to satisfy demand, said Larry Mickelberg, senior vice-president of strategy at US-based Medical Broadcasting Company. Over 80 per cent of internet users have searched for healthcare information, but only around 20 per cent found satisfactory answers, according to a 2006 study from Jupiter Research.

Mickelberg said that pharmaceutical companies have the resources to fill that gap, adding that there was already latent demand in the marketplace which was unmet by most pharmaceutical marketers: "Their audience has beaten them to the Internet."

GSK has also launched, a site which aims to debunk myths about diets and weight-loss supplements, before Alli even received FDA approval. The site does not mention Alli specifically, though it carries notice that it was built by GSK. Burton said the main purpose of the site was "public service," although it did collect visitors' e-mail addresses.

Brad Aronson, executive vice-president at Avenue A/Razorfish said of online content: "While GSK is keen to be seen as a trusted source of weight loss information, pharma companies should tread lightly when doubling as content publishers. It is often more effective, even for new treatments, to partner with already trusted health publishers and communities, such as WebMD and"

"They're not going to the pharmaceutical company to learn about a disease or condition. We want to be realistic that for conditions where there's a lot content out there, they're not going to look to us for that content," concluded Aronson.

28th February 2007


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