The Prozac Nation is fast becoming the Lexapro Nation. Anti-depressants produced by pharmaceutical maker Lundbeck are steadily becoming the prescribed drug of choice for doctors in the US.
Since Lexapro was launched by Lundbeck's US partner, Forest Laboratories, in June 2002, doctors have prescribed it to 13 million patients. The market share is expected to expand further when patents on rival drug Zoloft produced by Pfizer soon expire.
'When Zoloft's patent terminates, Lundbeck will have the world's most widespread anti-depressant product,' said Peter Bertram Andersen, an analyst for Jyske Bank told daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende.
'Lundbeck came into the US market as number five, and only a few people probably expected that it would end with taking 20 percent.'
The US anti-depressant market stands for 70 percent of the entire world market with a total value rounding DKK 19.9 billion in 2005.
Lundbeck's reaped DKK 3 billion of that market - roughly a third of the company's earnings.
Other companies are challenging Lundbeck's share, however, with Eli Lily leading the charge on the merits of its new drug, Cymbalta. Tallies in recent months show that doctors in the US issued 179,000 prescriptions for Cymbalta compared to Lexapro's 534,000.
Expectations for Cymbalt were growing, said Alessandro Banchi, head of Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly's German partner.
'We consider Lundbeck to be our competitor. Patients need alternatives and we can play a role,' said Banchi.
Another challenge lies in the latest lawsuit brought to court against Forest Laboratories. A mother in Utah raised charges against Lundbeck's US partner, stating that her 11-year-old girl daughter committed suicide in the summer 2004 after taking Lexapro for several weeks.
The case highlights the ongoing controversy over the role anti-depressants can play in suicide and brings the total number of suicide cases against Forest to 25. US health authorities called on Lundbeck and other anti-depressant producers to warn consumers about the increased risk of suicide while taking the medication in 2004.
For its part, Lundbeck was not overly concerned of the case's outcome: 'We are prepared to take up the debate. It's a chance to present our knowledge in the area. But we're concerned that a debate lacking nuances will prevent our patients from getting the medicine they need.'
In the event Lexapro was found to play a role in the suicide, responsibility would rest upon Forest, said Martin Parhøi, an analyst for Dansk Equities.
'Marketing responsibilities lie with Forest,' Parkhøi told daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende. 'Forest would be the liable party if the case is lost.'