Rogaine - Pharma's Biggest Flops

Company: Upjohn
Year approved: 1986

The promise: It's 1986, and Time magazine is profiling a promising treatment for baldness. Upjohn, which later became part of Pfizer, saw great hope with minoxidil, until then a blood pressure treatment. And the public was also hopeful: "When a Washington hospital announced three years ago that it was seeking gleaming pates on which to test the hair restorer, 10,000 eager volunteers called in, jamming the switchboard for three days and forcing the staff to use disaster control lines," Time reported at the time.

What went wrong: The FDA took issue with Upjohn's boasts about minoxidil, saying a company press release was "overly positive" and contained "misconceptions and false impressions of safety and efficacy." But the press release had aided the company's stock, which rose more than 9 percent to $174.25 in 48 hours. Upjohn's minoxidil sales had climbed from $14 million in 1984 to $33 million in 1986.

However, as Money magazine reported in 1989, early reports of minoxidil's benefits for balding men got blown out of proportion--aided in part by Upjohn's publicity efforts. And U.S. sales failed to grow despite the FDA's decision to let Upjohn market minoxidil as the prescription drug Rogaine. Sales were slow because Rogaine worked best for a younger men with thinning hair and not so much for older men with receding hairlines.

That same year, the AP featured a profile of Rogaine. Ronald Nordmann of Paine Webber estimated domestic sales for Rogaine accounted for $11 million of the company's $755 million in net sales for the first three months of 1989. Among the reasons cited for the low sales was Upjohn's vague, $20-million advertising campaign, featuring a man walking along a beach with the "see your doctor" phrase.

Rogaine eventually went OTC, but it faced generic competition sooner than anticipated.

Rogaine - Pharma's Biggest Flops