MM&M All-Stars Small Marketing Team: Keppra

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The way Tom Roberts sees it, if you're going to call yourself the epilepsy company, you better be accountable; and you better make sure that you do right by patients. 

Roberts, product director for Keppra and Keppra XR, the antiepileptic drug from UCB, says that when you adopt the epilepsy company as your slogan, it becomes more than just a marketing ploy. “It's really more of a way of defining our mission which is to help people with epilepsy,” he explains.

So far that mission has been right on target. With a 42% increase in retail dollars and a 40% increase in total dollars over last year, the introduction of Keppra XR in November and two more antiepileptic products in the pipeline, Keppra—currently ranked number four in the category—is poised to carve out an even greater chunk of the market. 

It's this steady growth trend and a successful patient-centered ad campaign that lead to our selection of Keppra as MM&M's All-Star Small Pharma Marketing Team of the Year, a repeat performance from last year. 

According to SDI's Vector One, retail sales were $820 million year-to-date, October 2008. In addition, according to IMS Health, Keppra achieved $1.025 billion in total dollars year-to-date September 2008.  

UCB's Roberts attributes Keppra's success in part to the fact that it's a novel product that has a very different mechanism of action than its competitors. The injection formulation of Keppra, notes Roberts, changed the way that seizures are treated in the emergency department of hospitals. 

“That really helped fuel the growth of Keppra's use out in the hospital population,” he says. 

He credits Keppra's sales force for being knowledgeable about not only epilepsy but also neurology in general. “We engendered a culture around here of knowing our business.”  

Anne Devereux, chairman and CEO of LyonHeart, Keppra's professional ad agency, agrees that Keppra's sales force, in conjunction with UCB's commitment to the disease state, are major factors that have contributed to Keppra's success. “The brand team members are highly strategic and know the category inside and out,” she notes. Devereux pointed out that with a series of successful launches (Keppra, Keppra XR and Vimpat which has been approved and is set for launch in the first quarter of 2009), UCB continues to introduce novel therapies that improve the lives of people with epilepsy and those who care for them. “They approach marketing challenges with honesty and high principles, and will not feature anyone in their ads who is not an epilepsy patient being successfully treated by Keppra,” Devereux explains. 

Kathy Love-Weitz, product manager for UCB's central nervous system business unit, notes that Keppra's indication has also been a factor in its success. “The indication that the product had [for] both partial and generalized seizures gave physicians a lot of confidence in the product to use it in a much broader population of patients.” 

UCB's campaign of utilizing patients as pitchmen is a formula that the company will continue to use going forward with Keppra as well as with Keppra XR.

As for the future: “We are continually reinvesting in patient programs that kind of carry the equity of Keppra's success through the next 20 years,” says Roberts, who added that in  addition to Vimpat, UCB has another compound currently in phase 3 clinical trials that is expected to launch in the 2011 timeline.

Roberts says the Keppra team has been successful in working with physicians and other medical partners, getting the word out and preaching that epilepsy is different because the consequences of having a seizure are extremely high. “Our partnership is based on not trying to sell pills,” he says, “but on trying to really partner with these physicians to eradicate the disease or eradicate the stigma that's associated with the disease, or the way that it holds people back from living successful lives.”
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