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Byline: Lewis Krauskopf
Aug. 22--Just past 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 12, drug maker AstraZeneca PLC issued a press release trumpeting approval of its new cholesterol-lowering pill Crestor.
Less than 10 minutes later, Pfizer Inc. fired off its own release. The maker of the cholesterol-buster Lipitor "announced" it had sold nearly 21 billion tablets of its drug, calling it a "record sign of physician trust." Pfizer's press retort announced something else: The pharmaceutical industry's highest-stakes marketing battle is on.
Controlling cholesterol -- the fatty substance that builds up in arteries -- is big business for the industry, especially for several of New Jersey's largest companies. For Merck & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., as well as Pfizer, sales of the treatments made up at least 14 percent of total pharmaceutical revenue in their most recent quarterly reports, while Schering-Plough Corp. last fall introduced a new type of cholesterol pill on which the company's future rests.
Pills known as statins …