Merck kicks off lung-cancer campaign

A video featured on the campaign's website stresses that "each person's cancer is different."

Merck recently launched an unbranded campaign featuring TV actress Bellamy Young that seeks to encourage people with non-small cell lung cancer to have their tumors tested for biomarkers, which are an important bellwether for how certain cancer drugs like Merck's Keytruda perform.

The initiative kicked off at the end of November, about a month after Keytruda received FDA approval to become the first approved immuno-oncology drug to treat first-line lung cancer in patients whose tumors contain a specific biomarker: PD-L1.

The goal of the campaign is to “empower those impacted by lung cancer to be advocates for their own health by learning more about biomarkers and making more informed decisions,” a Merck spokesperson said in an email. “Because the discovery of biomarkers is relatively new, especially in the case of PD-L1, [it] is important for patients to better understand the benefit of testing.”

See also: Merck's Keytruda wins approval in first-line lung cancer

Until Keytruda received a first-line indication, the drug competed with Bristol-Myers Squibb's immuno-oncology therapy, Opdivo. One of the primary differences between Keytruda and Opdivo is that the FDA requires that patients first undergo biomarker testing before taking Keytruda. Opdivo has no such requirement.

The campaign, Test. Talk. Take Action., consists of an a website, featuring a doctor discussion guide and information about the role biomarkers play in informing lung-cancer treatment options. Its content was developed in partnership with six lung-cancer patient advocacy organizations.

The website offers Young's perspective on dealing with her father's battle with lung cancer. Young stars on the TV show, “Scandal.” “Doctors can use biomarkers to not only find out information about a patient's lung cancer but to also determine which treatments are most likely to work,” she wrote on the website. “We didn't have that knowledge when my Pop was sick — I sure wish we had!”

See also: Merck outspends Bristol-Myers Squibb on journal ads for Keytruda

W2O Group agency tWist Mktg worked on the campaign with Merck.

Merck has significantly increased it advertising spend for Keytruda in the first five months of this year. From January to June of this year it invested $12 million in Keytruda, compared to $9.7 million overall in 2015, according to Kantar Media.

Up until this point, Merck's marketing strategy for Keytruda focused more on advertising in medical journals than its primary competitor: Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo. BMS has relied more on consumer-oriented tactics.

In the first six months of 2016, Keytruda was the thirteenth most advertised brand in professional journals, with Merck doling out more than $2 million to target doctors, according to Kantar Media. BMS took a different approach during that time, bringing Opdivo right to consumers with its broadcast DTC spot, Longer Life. In the first three months of 2016, BMS spent $37 million on advertising for Opdivo.

Opdivo is currently the market leader, with $2.4 billion in the first nine months of 2016. Keytruda brought in $919 million in sales in the same period.