DTC in Perspective: Powerful Disease Education Ads


While branded DTC Ads dominate the spending, there are some drug makers investing heavily in disease education. Most do it because when they have a drug for the disease coming out shortly or are in the introductory physician awareness phase for a newly approved drug. They usually have the only drug available for the condition or are the dominant drug in a category.
Disease awareness ads help on many fronts. First, they create patient conversations during the sell in phase between patient and doctor. By not mentioning the brand, the drug maker will not embarrass the doctor if they have not yet heard about it or tried it with patients. Second, drug makers can give insurers some pressure to put the drug soon to be approved or just approved on formulary. Finally, disease education ads can be more flexible creatively as there is no fair balance.

Bob Ehrlich
“Acadia has launched a compelling disease education campaign.”
-Bob Ehrlich

One of the most interesting new ads is on the lesser known effects of Parkinson’s disease. We all know about the tremors from Parkinson’s. I was unaware that one of the effects of Parkinson’s is experiencing delusions. Acadia has launched a compelling disease education campaign on the delusions and hallucinations experienced by sufferers. They call it “Secret Visitors” which was created with their agency STRIKEFORCE. We see those “visitors” in the spot through the eyes of a man who hallucinates and are told over 50% of disease sufferers experience such hallucinations or delusions. The first part of the 60 second ad is shot in a low light as the man is seeing things that are not there.

The final part of the spot is then seen in normal daylight as the voice over discusses treatment options and the man sees his grandchild outside coming for a visit. “Secret Visitors” is a very engaging spot that highlights the effectiveness of disease education ads. Devoting a full 60 seconds to telling a compelling story is what makes a disease education spot a good DTC choice. Acadia has the only approved drug to treat Parkinson’s delusions called Nuplazid, which was approved in the United States in April 2016.

It is not uncommon for drug makers to hold off on DTC until the physician community has been detailed and opinion leaders get some prescribing experience. Allowing the 18 months from approval to the disease education spot, as in this case, is not atypical for a first in class specialty drug. I do not know if a branded spot will follow as that may depend on whether a competitor will enter and when. Nuplazid is a premium priced drug costing about $3000 a month at retail. While not at the very top of the cost curve, $3000 a month is at the higher end of Rx drugs. Of course most patients are insured or get patient assistance so their cost is much less.

Nuplazid may be a blockbuster for Acadia, with some analysts projecting a billion dollar potential. At that sales level, we can expect DTC advertising to continue beyond the well crafted introductory disease education campaign. DTC television used to be for big high incidence disease categories only, but the recent trend is for small market premium priced drugs to do DTC television. Acadia continues the trend and is off to a good start with this campaign.


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