Novartis pleads with veterinarians: ‘Save us a spot’

Interceptor, Sentinel found online but not in veterinary practices

Published: August 29, 2012
By Jennifer Fiala

Photo by Kayla Rubenthaler
Novartis promises veterinarians in an Aug. 28 letter: "Once back, we will work hard to regain the trust of your clients — and you."
Novartis wants veterinarians to know that the company is “working diligently” to return its parasiticides and therapeutic brands to market after nearly 10 months of manufacturing setbacks and is imploring practitioners to resume using the company’s products once they come back.  

In a letter dated Tuesday to veterinarians, Novartis Animal Health sales executive Andy Ferrigno did not provide firm distribution dates for Interceptor Flavor Tabs and Sentinel Flavor Tabs. Both of the popular anti-parasitics have been backordered since Novartis’s manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Neb., closed last December. The shutdown followed a series of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that revealed manufacturing mishaps and sloppy quality control procedures.

Other veterinary-specific drugs including the anti-anxiety medication Clomicalm (clomipramine hydrochloride); Program tablets and suspension; Milbemite; and the arthritis pain medication Deramaxx (deracoxib) also are casualties of manufacturing woes at the Lincoln facility.  

The absence of Interceptor and Sentinel, however, is attracting the most attention from veterinarians; the drugs are used monthly for parasite control. With production of Novartis pet parasiticides on hiatus, drug companies carrying competing products might offer discounts and delayed payment options to veterinarians. In a densely populated and competitive market, one objective might be to provide veterinarians with enough stock to ensure they won’t return to Novartis brands once distribution recommences. 

“Your clinic will be approached in the coming months by our competitors, offering you load-in deals and terms that may draw your interest,” wrote Ferrigno, vice president of sales. “While we understand your need to do what is right for your business, patients and clients, we hope you will seriously consider saving us a spot on your shelves. We politely ask that you give your Novartis sales representatives a chance to earn back your business …”  

Despite the plea, Dr. John Daugherty thinks Novartis’s market share in animal health might be damaged permanently. Like his colleagues, he has 20 or more flea and tick products and roughly 10 heartworm preventatives from which to choose. Once an exclusive user of Interceptor and Sentinel, the practice owner in Poland, Ohio, said he’s not returning to Novartis-brand parasiticides anytime soon.  

“I had 1,500 patients on Interceptor,” Daugherty said. “We can’t go a whole year without heartworm preventative. At this point, we have almost all of our clients switched over to something else. I’m not going to tell them next year that they now need to switch back.”   

Other veterinarians are angered that Novartis continues to offer vague re-release dates. At least one practitioner took to the message boards of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service, to vent his frustration about the lack of concrete information in Ferrigno’s letter. 

“This really isn’t an update (but) more than a PR (public relations) letter,” wrote Dr. Rich Selkowitz, a practitioner in Rockaway, N.Y. “I am sick of giving clients a date on the return of your products based upon information given by drug reps, and then having to inform them that, nope, we don’t have it yet.”  

Another source of contention: The online pharmacy Drs. Foster & Smith and some other retail outlets are stocked with Interceptor and Sentinel despite the halt in production and Novartis’s policy to only sell its products to licensed veterinarians.  

“To find out that I have clients getting it from Foster and Smith after telling them that there was no way that Foster and Smith had any only makes me look like a lying you-know-what to my clients,” Selkowitz wrote in the discussion. “If you want me to ‘save a spot’ on my shelf, give me real dates as to when I can expect product shipment.”  

A representative of Wisconsin-based Drs. Foster & Smith confirmed that the company is carrying Interceptor and Sentinel in select weight classes for dogs. Both of the drugs require a veterinary prescription.  

Spokesman Gordon Magee declined to confirm whether Novartis sells directly to Drs. Foster & Smith or if the online pharmacy is supplied with backordered Novartis products via gray market channels — a means of distribution that allows retail and online pharmacies to circumvent manufacturers’ policies to sell their products exclusively through veterinary practices. The system is legal, at least for non-prescription medications, but considered unethical by much of the veterinary profession.  

“We do keep detailed records for where we source our products, but we don’t reveal sources,” Magee said by email. In a phone interview, he explained that Drs. Foster & Smith keeps its sources confidential to stay abreast of competition from other online pharmaceutical outfits catering to animals. 

Contacted by the VIN News Service, PetMed Express cited a “nationwide shortage” when asked if the online pharmacy had Interceptor or Sentinel in stock. A Costco pharmacy in Middleton, Wis., carried a supply of Sentinel, but not in every weight class.  

In his letter, Novartis’s Ferrigno insinuated that the company is investigating how its products are cropping up online despite the fact that veterinarians can’t get their hands on them.  

“Over the past several weeks, we have received numerous comments from our veterinary customers that some of our out-of-stock brands have been found in certain retail chains and stores,” he wrote. “This has prompted some concern and frustration that we may be selling our limited supply of product into that segment rather than to the veterinary channel. I can personally assure you that this is not the case.”  

He reaffirmed Novartis’s policy to distribute products only to veterinarians and alluded to the possibility that practitioners who purchased Novartis products may have resold them to brokers that supply online and retail sectors.  

“Any product that found its way into those retail channels was most likely diverted without our knowledge … either from residual customer inventory that predated our product shortages or, quite disappointingly, product shipped from our limited inventory this year,” Ferrigno wrote. “We will continue to investigate the situation and put measures in place that will help ensure the integrity and proper administration of our products.”  

Dr. Maren Bell Jones of Columbia, Mo., doubts the company’s sincerity.  

“I would like to be 100 percent moved on from Novartis products,” she said. “Don’t promise that you’ll be back up and running, fail to do that and then get product out to these other (retail and online) places. I’d like them to be straightforward instead of being so vague. The whole thing irritates me.” 

Novartis spokesman Joe Burkett said by email that he couldn’t “speak to” the frustration expressed by some veterinarians. When asked to pinpoint a re-release date for products manufactured in Lincoln, he pointed to a fact sheet posted on the company’s website, reporting that some Novartis Animal Health are in “various stages of pre-production and production.”

“Production, packaging and shipping of the 5-mg strength of Clomicalm (clomipramine hydrochloride) is now ongoing at the Lincoln plant, and shipments of that stock keeping unit (SKU) began in mid-June,” the website says. “We also have initiated validation batch production of Sentinel (milbemycin oxime/lufenuron) Flavor Tabs at the plant, a critical phase of process testing that is required before full scale production can begin. As we validate, technical issues do arise.  

“Due to the evolving situation at the plant, we cannot give exact dates when product will be shipping."  


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