Drug stores will keep busy with extended allergy season

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Whoever named the genus to which ragweed plants belong “ambrosia” had a terrific sense of irony. The name, derived from Greek, refers to the food of the gods, but the plant is more like punishment from the gods, considering that it’s the main culprit in seasonal allergies.

(THE NEWS: Allergy season to last longer this year. For the full story, click here)

But while allergy sufferers are dreading the more than two-week extension to ragweed season, it’s great news for retail pharmacies, which now have more time to sell large volumes of over-the-counter drugs for allergies, one of the top categories in the drug store. That’s not surprising when one considers that according to one survey cited in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, at least 10% of the U.S. population is ragweed sensitive. And with Claritin and Zyrtec alone generating more than $390 million during the 12-month period ended in March, the extended season is likely to drive the category even further.

What’s more, because allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine, such as Claritin-D, are kept behind the pharmacy counter, pharmacists likely will find themselves kept busy amid a chorus of coughs and congestion from customers with questions on how to mitigate their misery.

And coming just in time is the OTC switch of Sanofi-Aventis’ Allegra, which hit store shelves last month, bringing another major allergy product line to market. According to Kline Group analysts, the Allegra line is expected to reach $100 million in sales and increase until it approaches $200 million in three years. The Food and Drug Administration approved a version of the drug made by India-based generic drug maker Dr. Reddy’s Labs this week as well. But branded OTC drugs still can sell even in the face of generic competition, as the high sales figures of Claritin and Zyrtec illustrate.

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