Experts: Sprout needs to show Addyi is not Viagra for women

After gaining approval from the FDA for female-libido treatment Addyi, Sprout Pharmaceuticals should leverage the stories of patients and physicians involved in its clinical trials before the drug becomes available in October, say pharma comms experts.

Some potential patients and physicians are skeptical of the drug for a few reasons. For one, a study published in July found that only 8% to 13% of women who take Addyi will see improvement over a placebo. There are also worries about the drug's side effects, and some critics do not believe hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or HSDD, is a real thing.

Sprout's first move must be to validate HSDD among skeptics and showcase the true impact of sexual dysfunction in women, health communications experts tells PRWeek.

Shauna Keough, a senior team leader at healthcare comms firm Biosector 2, explains that the best way to do this is to have the women from the clinical trials "tell the story through their eyes."

"The women from the clinical trials will be really instrumental in helping to shape the need in the market for this, along with the physicians in the trials," Keough says.

The stories should illuminate the unmet need for Addyi, and also the fact that the issue of sexual dysfunction means something different for each woman it affects, adds Lissette Linares, partner and director of business development at Spectrum.

"Essentially, you can't paint the needs of all women with a single brush," says Linares. "For some women, this drug can make a dramatic difference in their lives and intimacy with their partner. So I would focus on leveraging patient stories to bring that to life."

Addyi may soon get a new parent company, as well. Valeant Pharmaceuticals said on Thursday that it has agreed to buy Sprout for $1 billion. Sprout CEO Cindy Whitehead will continue to lead the company as a division of Valeant.

Reps from Sprout and Valeant were not immediately available for comment. On the announcement, Sard Verbinnen was listed as Valeant's contact, and Edelman was listed as Sprout's.

Video is a powerful medium that Sprout can use to tell women's stories, showing firsthand testimonials to make a connection on an emotional issue, she adds.

"When it comes to reaching consumer audiences, pharma companies have a lot of history and a success record reaching women with healthcare information," adds Carrie Jones, principal and MD at JPA Health Communications. "We have seen that is effective through patient anecdotes and stories and the use of video and creative mediums."

Sprout's messaging campaign about the drug should also address media reports that have hyped it as the "female Viagra," experts say.

"I don't think it behooves Sprout for the product to be continuously compared with Viagra, though that did give them a lot of great buzz and coverage that has brought the conversation into the mainstream," says Keough. "It is ultimately going to be limiting for the product, because it short changes the science and the value of the product."

The brand also needs to change the narrative from a lifestyle discussion to focus on the medical condition.

"Sprout needs to figure out how to get out of the shadow of Viagra so it is able to create its own marketplace and demonstrate the real value for the women who need it," Keough says. "Addyi doesn't go straight to the source like Viagra; it goes straight to the brain – that's a nice consumer message."

And, of course, the drug's risks and warnings must also be clearly communicated to potential customers, experts agree.

In terms of tone, Sprout should avoid Viagra's tongue-in-cheek approach to marketing. Going that route would be detrimental to Addyi's success, Keough warns.

"Viagra went tongue-in-cheek because that was the entre it could make with men," she says. "That isn't going to work with women, [some of whom] have been frustrated it has taken this long for this drug to be approved."

Once a patient is convinced about Addyi's value, her next move should be to ask her doctor about it. That is why it is also important for Sprout to understand how physicians view and understand the disorder and help them identify the right patients for the drug.

"Sprout should be reaching out to doctors," Jones adds. "It should supply doctors with tools that enable them to have an open dialogue with their patients about the efficacy, the risk, and the patients' expectations of the drug."

Sprout should also spell out questions for doctors to ask and tips on ways to discuss patients' expectations, for instance to talk about patients' belief that Addyi is the female equivalent of Viagra.

Sprout can gain the trust of doctors through conferences, such as the upcoming Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health Premier Women's Healthcare Conference, slated for mid-October. A health conference is an ideal venue for physician peer-to-peer influence, notes Keough.

"When marketing Addyi to physicians, Sprout will have to make sure it is all about data, data, data," she adds. "So they have to be creative about how they tell that story at conferences."

Addyi's approval this week came after the drug was rejected twice by the FDA, most recently in 2013, for failing to be effective enough.

This time around, a coalition of women's and health groups supported the drug, starting a lobbying campaign called Even the Score with the goal of "leveling the playing field when it comes to the treatment of women's sexual dysfunction," according to the group's website.

Sprout helped to fund the coalition, according to media reports.

When Addyi was approved, Even the Score posted a video on its site thanking the FDA for its decision.

A representative from Even the Score was unable to immediately comment on the campaign "due to active client engagement."

This article originally appeared on PRWeek.com.