Monica Smiley

Monica Smiley is Editor & Publisher of Enterprising Women. The magazine will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2020. She is also the President and Founder of the Enterprising Women Foundation. To learn more about Enterprising Women or to donate to the Foundation's initiative to mentor and inspire the next generation of women leaders, please email Monica at or call 919-362-5151.

Three Keys to Success as a Pharmaceutical Entrepreneur

Success in the over-the-counter pharmaceutical market can seem unattainable for independent drug inventors and entrepreneurs. However, shelf space at CVS and Rite Aid is in reach for pharmaceutical entrepreneurs who invest in the product early and often, optimize by streamlining, and understand a product’s value to the customer. As the inventor of the top-selling RELEEV® Cold Sore formula, my experience entrepreneurially building Merix Pharmaceuticals illustrates the importance of these strategies.

Invest in the product early and often
Meryl Squires invented the formula used in RELEEV® 1 Day Sold Sore Treatment and RELEEV® Oral Care. She also founded the company that sells the treatments. The first investment made in RELEEV® was in my expertise as a scientist. When seeking a remedy to my own serious monthly cold sore outbreaks, I drew on decades of research in phyto-pharmacology.

Using myself as the test subject, I tested numerous botanical formulas as treatments for herpes simplex virus, a cause of cold sores and certain canker sores. After months of experimentation, I developed a mixture combining Echinacea purpurea, which I knew for treating snake bites, with benzalkonium chloride. The results were immediate. My cold sore outbreak was gone the next morning, when in times past it would have lasted two weeks.

I then invested in research at a local University of Chicago-affiliated college. Volunteers testing the formula confirmed that it eased pain in minutes and healed their cold sores in twenty-four hours. I continued investing in testing research, including work with a lead herpes virus laboratory researcher at The University of Chicago. When his research on the formula’s efficacy proved promising, I obtained a patent and invested in product development to build on the basics of the efficacious formula.

Over the years, in vitro testing has demonstrated that the Echinacea-based formula in RELEEV® has broad antiviral and antibacterial activity. A double blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial proved it to be the fastest healing cold sore treatment known.
I then spent three years refining the product, challenge testing it for shelf life, and developing a marketable consistency. I also invested in market analysis to guide packaging and branding changes. In 1998, I formed Merix Pharmaceutical Corporation to bring the product to national retail.

Stay streamlined
Turning to the Internet as an affordable way of connecting with buyers, I built a highly successful Yahoo store site. I serviced orders, managed marketing and advertising, and developed a regional radio advertising strategy that boosted brand visibility and accelerated sales.

Only then did I take the next step, moving into office space and hiring employees. To expand distribution, I began collaborating with consumer goods sales specialists, hiring a firm to sell the product into national retail drug store chains and oversee a sales representative network.

Value your product like your customer does
My decade developing RELEEV® gave me a keen understanding of the value customers placed on the product. Distribution and sales consultants suggested a retail price of $6.99, but I would not consider this low price point—it was based on a comparison with products that do not work as well.

Departing from sales consultant’s methods, I chose the $20 price point by asking people how much they would pay for a product that healed their cold sore in as little as one day. While high relative to competitors, the price point proved successful and sales grew.

Invest, Streamline, and Value
Merix Pharmaceutical Corporation’s success with RELEEV® 1 Day Cold Sore Symptom Treatment points to a host of valuable lessons: invest in the product before entering a market too hastily; keep staffing at a minimum and develop beneficial business relationships to avoid unnecessary expenditures; and know the value of a product to its users.

About the Author:
Meryl Squires is the founder and CEO of Merix Pharmaceutical Corporation, a pioneering U.S. corporation with the primary mission of developing and marketing highly effective and safe medicines based upon its licensed bio-technology, VIRACEA®. Through a proprietary process, Squires invented the phyto-pharmaceutical formula used in RELEEV® 1 Day Cold Sore Symptom Treatment and RELEEV® Oral Care Treatment.

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