May 9, 2013
Some veterinarians wary of Novartis’ enticements to carry Sentinel
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service
News that Novartis’ Sentinel Flavor Tabs parasite control medication for dogs has
returned to market after a 16-month hiatus has generated delight from some veterinarians and ambivalence and contempt from others.
Also reverberating among veterinarians is Novartis’ announcement that it
discontinued Interceptor, another once popular anti-parasitic, and has slashed
prices on Sentinel (milbemycin oxime/lufenuron) in an effort to regain business.
“Thank you for your patience and commitment to Novartis Animal
Health U.S., Inc. and the Sentinel Flavor Tabs brand,” officials said in a letter
to veterinarians. “We apologize for the disruption we have caused you, your
practice and your clients. We hope to earn back your trust — and, to that end,
have built significant inventories to support expected demand.”
Both products — along with several other animal-health related
drugs — became casualties in 2011 of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration crackdown on
Novartis’ plant in Lincoln, Neb. The agency cited manufacturing mishaps and a host of egregious violations mostly tied to the drug maker’s production of
over-the-counter medications intended for use in humans.
By early January, the Lincoln plant ceased operations,
leaving veterinarians and their clients suddenly without Sentinel, Interceptor,
the pain-control drug Deramaxx, the anti-anxiety medication Clomicalm and other
Now that plant is reopened and production is in full swing, Novartis says. To
get Sentinel back on the veterinary practice shelves, Novartis says it has
“permanently” slashed the drug’s prices nearly in half. On top of that,
veterinarians can receive an additional 25 percent off on Sentinel during a
promotional period that ends May 31. The pet parasiticide is designed to protect canines against heartworms, fleas, hookworms, roundworms and whipworms.
Such incentives might not be enough to successfully woo veterinarians who
say the drug maker burned them by failing to fully explain the reason behind
drug backorders, offering little more than vague explanations.
Critics are chagrined about Novartis’ lack of transparency while the company
wallowed in regulatory turmoil that reportedly cost the company $120 million.
Dr. Harold “Mike” Beard of Conway, Ark., says he isn’t ready
to forgive Novartis’ mishaps or the frustration imposed on his practice and
clients. On a message board of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an
online community for the profession, he simply stated: “Novartis is dead to
Dr. John Daugherty of Poland, Ohio, echoes his disdain.
“I’m sick of being used and manipulated by drug companies,”
he said on VIN. “I liked Interceptor, had no problems with it, recommended it
to all my clients, then it disappeared. Now they canceled it altogether but
want me to push Sentinel?
“No way,” he declared. “If clients want it, I’ll write a script
for it, but I won’t stock it and I won’t promote it. There are far too many
products available already, and I’m not going to let a drug company dictate to
me that I will carry their more expensive product because they took the other one
away. (Yeah, I said more expensive. Do you really think they’ll keep the price
this low once everyone starts stocking and selling it again?)”
Like Sentinel, Interceptor contained milbemycin oxime, which
kills heartworms and controls disease caused by roundworms, hookworms and
certain whipworms. The two drugs are nearly identical in their treatment function. The difference is that Sentinel helps stop flea eggs from hatching, and Interceptor did not contain a flea killer or preventative.
Novartis did not give specifics about its decision to
eliminate Interceptor, except to note that Sentinel’s lower price now makes it
easier for clients to afford the year-round parasite and flea preventative.
“Providing broad-spectrum heartworm and flea preventive at
these prices creates a new standard of care in the market,” stated Novartis’
letter to veterinarians. “Therefore, we have discontinued production of
Interceptor (milbemycin oxime) Flavor Tabs
for the U.S. market."
Dr. Michael Cohen of Philadelphia plans to give Novartis
“the benefit of the doubt.”
“No matter what anyone says, cash talks and consumers want
low-priced, effective products,” he said on VIN. “… Of course they royally
screwed up. I was pissed at their lack of communication and lack of
professionalism. Did they learn their lesson? Who knows? For the most part,
they have good products.”
Dr. Shelby Riddle of Benicia, Calif., explained by phone that Sentinel’s
previous high cost deterred clients from using it. However, “the price break
has made all the difference,” she said on VIN.
She added by phone: “Business is business; I can’t hold
manufacturing plant problems against Novartis forever. If my clients are happy
to get Sentinel back, I’m glad.”
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