Aiming for distinction in a tough market, Pfizer nabs (unnecessary) kosher label for Gaucher drug

In May, Pfizer ($PFE) announced kosher certification for its Gaucher disease treatment Elelyso. Few people noticed. So, the company reposted its press release July 1. And now, the news is getting some media play that could prove just as important in forming patient relationships as the certification itself.

When Pfizer touted Elelyso's kosher status for the second time, it proclaimed its drug the first-ever prescription med to win kosher certification from the Orthodox Union--just as it did in its first press release. But this time, CNBC, Israeli newspaper Haaretz and others picked up the story.

Those reports zeroed in on a fact that Pfizer disclosed in its release: Jewish law doesn't require kosher certification for lifesaving meds, nor does it require it for injectable drugs like Elelyso. "In a life or death situation, Jewish law clearly sets aside the kosher status of a prescription medicine," Rabbi Menachem Genack, OU Kosher's CEO, said in Pfizer's release.

So why go to the trouble of paying for, obtaining and twice announcing the kosher label? According to Pfizer spokeswoman Jennifer Kokell, it's to show the company's understanding of--and commitment to--the Gaucher community, which is primarily made up of Ashkenazi Jews.

"Kosher labeling is important to people in the Jewish community who observe these specific dietary laws," she told FiercePharmaMarketing in an email.

And as veteran Pfizer knows, in the rare-disease drug arena, patient relationships are key. In order to compete, companies have to put patients at the center of the equation, tailoring their marketing on an individual level.

That competition is already out there, with Shire's ($SHPG) VPRIV, Actelion's ($ATLN) Zavesca and Sanofi's ($SNY) Cerezyme all vying for U.S. market share. And there's more on the way: Sanofi's Genzyme unit has another Gaucher drug in Phase III development that grabbed the FDA's priority review status in December. And at least four other companies have early-stage biosimilar programs for Gaucher underway, Shire said in a February regulatory filing. 

- read the release

Special Report: The top 10 pharma companies by 2013 revenue - Pfizer