Washington (AP) — For nearly a decade, aging Americans who wanted to wipe the wrinkles from their foreheads had one choice: Botox, the refined form of the botulism-causing toxin that temporarily removes frown lines.

Barely a week after the Food and Drug Administration cleared way for a second anti-wrinkle drug, Botox maker Allergan is defending its top product as it also fights against an economic downturn that has consumers cutting back on beauty expenses.

Last week, Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp’s Dysport became the second drug to win FDA approval to compete in the anti-wrinkle market. A full-scale product launch is expected by July.

"Each of these botulinum toxins behaves in practice quite differently," Allergan Chief Executive David Pyott said in an interview with the Associated Press. "We’ve said for quite a while that switching from one to another is like saying ‘I’m going to stop speaking English and start talking to you in German.’"

Pyott stressed that Botox and Dysport are not interchangeable because the drugs are dosed and injected differently.

Allergan has good reason to be protective of Botox: It accounts for nearly one-third of its sales. Originally approved as a treatment for rare eye muscle disorders, it has grown into a billion-dollar blockbuster since 2002, when FDA approved it for cosmetic use.

But new competition isn’t the only challenge the Irvine, Calif.-company faces. As a drug and medical device firm specializing in cosmetic treatments, Allergan is more exposed to the financial downturn than its peers. Whereas drugs for heart disease and diabetes are paid for by insurers, anti-wrinkle injections and breast implants are paid for by consumers themselves.

Allergan’s profit plunged nearly 60 percent in the first quarter on restructuring charges and lower sales of medical implants. But analysts say Botox injections – which average between $700 to $900 every three months – have held up as consumers turn to lower-cost injectables from pricey surgeries.

[Source:  Associated Press]