Taking a page out of big pharma’s marketing playbook, Myriad Genetics this week launched a direct-to-consumer television advertising campaign aimed to educate women about the risk of inherited breast and ovarian cancer associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, and simultaneously, advertise its BRACAnalysis test.
If it’s successful, Myriad’s BRACAnalysis Awareness Campaign can boost sales of an already money-making product. Fiscal 2007 sales of its molecular diagnostics offerings, led by its BRACAnalysis product, increased 44 percent to $145 million year over year. The company’s ’07 fiscal year ended June 30.
Although Myriad has been marketing its BRACAnalysis test since 1996, Greg Critchfield, president of Myriad Genetic Laboratories, told Pharmacogenomics Reporter that the time is ripe for this type of advertising to spread the word about the product.
“Now is a very good time to launch the campaign. There’s currently a lot more awareness [among health care professionals] of the importance of hereditary cancer risk in managing the health care of individuals who carry mutations,” Critchfield said.
Myriad’s educational campaign for BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing may also be a shrewd PR campaign to foment goodwill in the marketplace for the company and its test.
As the maker of the only commercially available BRCA test in the US, Myriad has faced criticism for monopolizing the market and thwarting the development of better tests. Additionally, the test itself received some negative publicity last year when a study found that 12 percent of patients with a high hereditary risk, who were found to be negative by BRCA testing, ultimately developed cancer.
Myriad points out, however, there is still a substantial unmet need for patient education since the company estimates that fewer than 3 percent of women who have BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations know that they are at increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are approximately 2.3 million women in the US who have a family history of breast cancer. So, by selling its BRACAnalysis test like pharma, the potential exists for Myriad to earn big bucks like pharma, too.
The BRACAnalysis Awareness Campaign is designed to raise awareness that hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is something that women “need to talk to their doctor about,” Critchfield said. “If breast or ovarian cancer runs in the family, then they need to have a conversation with their health care professional to do a risk assessment and decide whether the test is in order for them.”
The first crop of BRACNow television advertisements, which began running in New York on Sept. 10, advises women that if they have a history of breast and ovarian cancer in their families a BRACAnalysis test can help them find out their risk of getting the diseases.
Through the voices and images of women of various ages and races, the ad delivers the following message: “Breast cancer runs in my family. My mother, my grandmother, my dad’s sisters. I wondered if it would be inevitable. I found out it didn’t have to be. I found out my risk through BRACAnalysis … a blood test that has helped thousands of women find out their risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. After BRACAnalysis, I realized I can choose to do something now, to help reduce my cancer risk now, with effective medical options.”
The ad instructs women to discuss their family and personal history with a doctor, and directs them to a website, BRACNow.com, as well as a toll-free number, 1-866-BRAC-NOW, for additional information. The ad ends by urging women to “be ready against cancer now,” a tagline created from the acronym BRACNow.
“The goal of the campaign is to raise the awareness, so individuals that have breast and ovarian cancer running in their family will talk to their doctors and they can have access to some potentially life-saving technologies,” Critchfield said.
According to the ACS, this year nearly 180,000 women will learn they have breast cancer and more than 22,000 women will find out they have ovarian cancer. Of these women, up to 10 percent will have a hereditary risk, predisposing them to these diseases.
Myriad estimates that women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have between a 57-percent and an 87-percent risk of developing breast cancer by age 70 compared with 7 percent for women in the general population. Similarly, women with these mutations have between a 27-percent and a 44-percent risk of developing ovarian cancer by age 70, compared with less than 2 percent in the general population.
The campaign will also be launched in three other cities, including Boston, Hartford, Conn., and Providence, RI, which will see print, television, and radio ads. The ads, which will run through the spring of 2008, are aimed at an area of the country with a high proportion of health care professionals that are knowledgeable about hereditary risk and genetic testing, according to Critchfield.
“The campaign has been designed to reach individuals in the northeastern United States because there are a large number of health care professionals that are educated and are prepared to answer questions that patients may have about hereditary risk,” Critchfield said. “About 15 percent of the US population will be in the geographic areas where the ad campaign will run. That’s where there are a large number of medical professionals [and would] … include cancer specialists, geneticists, genetic counselors, nurses, and OB-Gyns, who are in a position to assess the patient’s risk and to offer testing services.”
In the areas where there is a smaller health care infrastructure knowledgeable about BRCA testing, Myriad will continue educational efforts through partnerships with government agencies, professional societies, and patient groups.
“Our goal would be to assess the impact of the campaign in the Northeast and then, if the approach proves successful, then we would move it to other parts of the country,” Critchfield said.
Pharma’s aggressive DTC tactics have helped create billion-dollar markets, most notably for erectile dysfunction and depression drugs. Myriad has jumped into the DTC ad game at a time when drug makers are self-regulating their marketing efforts having faced public criticism for their advertising campaigns, which critics have called brazen and irresponsible.
In 2005, 23 pharmas led by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America decided to make educational messages a centerpiece of their voluntary DTC guidelines. Since then, this so-called educational ad model has increasingly been used by pharma and, in certain cases, has proven to be as profitable as earlier “reminder ads” that had been the industry’s modus operandi before the FDA issued its 1999 guidelines for broadcast DTC ads.
“Now is a very good time to launch the campaign. There’s currently a lot more awareness [among health care professionals] of the importance of hereditary cancer risk in managing the health care of individuals who carry mutations.”
A recent example of an educational pharma ad is Merck’s “Tell Someone” campaign to alert women about the link between cervical cancer and HPV. The campaign appeared to be timed with the launch of the company’s HPV vaccine Gardasil. The educational angle certainly has not hurt Gardasil sales; in fact, Merck reported $1 billion in Gardasil sales for the quarter ended June 20.
Myriad is likely betting that its educational campaigning will also increase its top line. While the company would not reveal its marketing budget for the campaign, Critchfield said the company has invested “significant resources” in the effort.
Ultimately, the promise of market advantage is the biggest carrot driving a company to sink big dollars into a multimedia advertising campaign. For Merck, the “Tell Someone” campaign helped make Gardasil synonymous with HPV and cervical cancer before GlaxoSmithKline’s competing vaccine Cervarix reaches the US market. Cervarix was approved in Australia in May and is currently under review at the US Food and Drug Administration.
Since Myriad doesn’t appear to have any immediate competitors in its horizon, it may be using the DTC airwaves to do a bit of damage control. Industry observers have recently criticized the company for monopolizing the BRCA1 and 2 testing market and not allowing for the development of better diagnostics.
The BRACNow ads might also help detract from the negative findings in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March. The study looked at 300 US families with 4 or more cases of breast or ovarian cancer but with negative (wild-type) commercial genetic test results for BRCA1 and BRCA2. Subjects were screened by multiple DNA-based and RNA-based methods to detect genomic rearrangements in BRCA1 and BRCA2 and germline mutations of all classes in CHEK2, TP53, and PTEN.
The study authors concluded that in the presence of a family history of breast or ovarian cancer and despite previously testing negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA1 mutations, 12 percent of women eventually developed cancer.
Finally, a DTC ad campaign may help Myriad manage the cost perception surrounding its test. Myriad charges up to $3,000 for BRACAnalysis testing. Pharma, facing similar criticisms over costly cancer therapies, has increasingly begun including in its ads information regarding internally developed patient-assistance programs.
While the BRACNow ad that began appearing in New York this week does not discuss cost, patient assistance, or reimbursement, under the “Frequently Asked Questions” section on BRACNow.com the company states: “Most health insurance plans pay for BRACAnalysis. More than 90% of tests receive coverage, and the average reimbursement is more than 90%.”
According to Critchfield, 2,500 insurers currently reimburse for the test.