Novalar Tests Market, Learns a Few Things, Before National Rollout of Dental Drug

10/5/09Follow @xconomy

While making small talk on my last trip to the dentist, I mentioned that as a biotech journalist, I sometimes interview entrepreneurs who create new dental products, like the Sonicare toothbrush. The dentist, maybe to test if I knew what I was talking about, asked me what cool ideas I’ve seen lately. I stammered a little before mentioning the San Diego company with a drug that makes anesthesia wear off faster so dental patients can get back to work.

My dentist hadn’t heard of it. And, I’m sure Novalar CEO Donna Janson will be chagrined to learn, I couldn’t remember the product’s name off the top of my head, either. But it reminded me that it had been a few months since I first wrote about this first-of-a-kind drug, phentolamine mesylate (Oraverse). So it was time for a follow-up with Janson to see how the initial marketing campaign is going.

It’s been more than six months since San Diego-based Novalar kicked off its marketing campaign at a dental meeting in Chicago in late February and early March. Some 30,000 people attended that meeting, including some leading dental researchers, and Novalar spent a few marketing bucks by holding a reception at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The initial buzz from the meeting translated into about 2,000 customers after about six months, although not all have re-ordered the product, Janson says. The Novalar drug has been introduced in six major regions around the country that are serving as test markets.

The original plan was to hit the test markets for six to eight months, staff up from 55 people to 100 with a national sales force, and go after the whole country with gusto. Novalar has decided to hold off on that more ambitious plan for at least a few more months, seeking to learn more from its experience in the test markets before it goes after the bigger territory.

“We’re pushing out to 2010 our national launch to learn a few more things,” Janson says.

Just to remind those who missed the initial story on Novalar last November, here’s the basic business idea. Something like 275 million cartridges of local anesthetic are used in U.S. dental offices … Next Page »

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