Some veterinarians wary of Novartis’ enticements to carry Sentinel

Interceptor gone forever, company says

Published: May 09, 2013
By Jennifer Fiala

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 medications.

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 me.”

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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