If unbranded direct-to-consumer ads in support of Pfizer's Lyrica for fibromyalgia moved the needle on prescriptions, branded creative could boost uptake even more.
That's what Pfizer is hoping as the DTC campaign for Lyrica evolves to include new TV and print work that mentions the drug by name.
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by widespread muscle pain and
fatigue that until relatively recently had no diagnostic criteria and no approved treatments. Now, in addition to Lyrica (pregabalin), the FDA is set to decide on Eli Lilly's Cymbalta in
fibromyalgia on or before June 2008, while Forest Labs and Cypress filed milnacipran for that
indication on Dec. 31st. Two other compounds are in
late-stage clinical development. New therapies are expected to grow the fibromyalgia market from under $400 million in 2006 to $2 billion by 2016, Datamonitor predicts.
The disease is hindered by a lack of awareness and
understanding, though, with over 50% of patients undiagnosed.
“This is almost a textbook definition of an unmet medical
need,” said Ian Read, VP,
president of Pfizer Worldwide Pharmaceutical Operations, during a conference call with analysts last September.DTC promotional spending on Pfizer's Lyrica
|Source: Nielsen Monitor-Plus, Dec. 2007|
That's where DTC comes in. Ad campaigns for Rx drugs often follow a well-trod path, and Lyrica's is no exception. Unbranded outreach began over the summer with an awareness effort with the National
Fibromyalgia Association (NFA). PSAs
featured people who suffer from fibromyalgia speaking about their
experience with the disorder and a call to visit a Web site,
www.fibrohope.org, for more information.
Introduced in the fall, branded DTC spots touting Lyrica for fibromyalgia
(pictured upper left) are running on TV and online at Lyrica.com. Print ads appear in Newsweek
The branded spots employ basically the same messaging as the unbranded
ones. The Lyrica push was part of a 2007 DTC surge by the drug maker
that also saw debut ads for new smoking cessation aid Chantix, as well
as new TV spots for ED drug Viagra and painkiller Celebrex.
"I find the whole transition from unbranded to branded to be very
fascinating. When you see brands do it, it generally means they're very
successful," said Jim Joseph, EVP manging director, Saatchi & Saatchi
Consumer Health + Wellness, a unit of Publicis. "[Pfizer is] following that classic curve, which means the marketing is
working." That is, if its condition-awareness efforts weren't resonating, the branded ads may have been delayed, or initiated sooner.
Indeed, Pfizer has seen a greater number of new and total patient prescriptions following the June approval for
fibromyalgia, launch of Lyrica for that indication in July, and initiation of the unbranded DTC work, noted Bear Stearns analyst
John Boris in an investor note last month. As of Dec. 14, Lyrica had
posted new and total prescriptions (NRx's/TRx's) of 118,871 and 203,737,
respectively. While that was slightly lower that the previous week's totals of
122,509 and 211,988, Boris said he was impressed with the data points' upward
trajectory over the previous four weeks.
The unbranded Lyrica program is still running, an NFA spokesperson said. Keeping both on is another classic strategy. "The truth is, different strategies appeal to different consumers," Joseph said. "Some consumers
will be more drawn to an unbranded piece and others more drawn to a branded
piece because it's a little more tangible. At the end of the day, though, they build on each other when you have two forces in the marketplace working in
tandem. You can expect the sales to continue, maybe even at an accelerated
He likened the situation to the campaign for Merck's HPV vaccine Gardasil, whose unbranded messaging was not so different from its branded messaging, either. "[Gardasil] saw
explosive growth after [Merck] launched the branded campaign, because the two built
on each other."
For the 12 months ended November 2007, Lyrica US revenue topped $965.8 million, according to Verispan. The drug was approved in 2006, initially for treating nerve pain associated with diabetes and shingles, as well
as for partial onset seizures. In the third quarter of 2007, sales grew 37% to $465 million, compared to the same
period the year prior.
Fibromyalgia, which affects some three-to-six
million people in the US, is expected to triple the number of US
patients who can benefit from Lyrica, Pfizer has said. The company is also testing the drug in general anxiety disorder, key data for which are expected in 2009. Datamonitor estimates Lyrica fibromyalgia sales
could grow to $641 million in 2016, making it the market leader. That could help Pfizer staunch some of the losses anticipated from the looming sunset of patent exclusivity for the firm's best
selling-drug, the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, in the 2010-2011 timeframe.
Which is why analysts are watching Lyrica closely. Pfizer did not return a call seeking comment on the ads. Kaplan Thaler handles the Lyrica consumer ad account,
while the professional business resides with Euro RSCG Life LM&P.
Monitor-Plus, through the first three quarters of the year Pfizer had spent nearly $40 million promoting Lyrica to consumers. Since ad spend is reported once the ads run, according to Nielsen, Pfizer's fourth-quarter spending on Lyrica was expected to increase over the amount spent during the prior three-month period (see chart). Its spending on Lyrica DTC promotion reached $27.5 million for all of 2006.