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This month, as pink ribbons permeate promotions of breast cancer awareness, AstraZeneca will launch a pioneering Web effort for its category-leading breast cancer treatment Arimidex that will alternately celebrate survivorship of the disease and showcase how big pharma is breaking ground online through the use of social media to drive its product marketing.

During the month of October, AstraZeneca will subtly turn up publicity behind through banner ads and an offline push by its sales force.

“ is a way for us to facilitate the celebration of survivorship,” says Meryl Weinreb, director of patient programs, oncology at AstraZeneca. “It's not just a marketing thing. It's a way of really developing a relationship with the customer.”

For Weinreb, who herself is a breast cancer survivor, when the time came to design, it was important for the site to say something more than just “we provide a medication,” she says.

For the project, Weinreb and AstraZeneca enlisted the help of Digitas Health. The end result was a first-of-its-kind use of social media allowing users to become part of the marketing experience.
“The Web site is groundbreaking in that you are letting users generate some content,” says Marion Chaplick, SVP, management supervisor, Digitas Health. “It is a step into the user-generated content (UGC) arena.” allows breast cancer survivors, their friends and family members to create paper doll caricatures of fellow survivors featuring physical attributes and characteristics. The dolls then perform actions in a series of animations. The animations can then be sent to up to 11 recipients via e-mail. For each one of the dolls created, $1 is put aside and donated by AstraZeneca to the to breast cancer charity Living Beyond Breast Cancer. also offers users an opt-in to AstraZeneca's “In Your Corner” breast-cancer support program, “where adherence is certainly part of it,” Weinreb says.
“We felt the ‘In Your Corner' program was a terrific tie-in with, since it's all about survivorship,” she adds.

Scott Reese, SVP, group creative director, Digitas Health adds, “We saw this as being a big opportunity to support the patient in a way that is unexpected from a pharmaceutical company.”
Since's “soft launch” in June, the feedback has been positive and encouraging, according to AstraZeneca and Digitas Health. “Nearly 30,000 people have gone to the Web site,” says Weinreb. “That's the miracle of the Web and its viral nature.”

One user of the site, who is currently fighting metastatic breast cancer, had a doll created for her, Weinreb said. “She didn't have the best week in terms of learning about her breast cancer,” Weinreb said. “She was touched by it. It was something that came through at just the right time. It was something that just lifted her spirits.”

The hormonal breast cancer drug market
AstraZeneca's Arimidex is currently the leading hormonal breast cancer therapy with $292 million in retail sales (excluding prescriptions dispensed in hospitals) through July 2007, according to Versipan's Vector One.

Novartis' Femara, trailed in second in terms of retail sales with $168 million during the same period while Pfizer's Aromasin was third with $54 million and generic tamoxifen in fourth with $30 million.

Calls to Novartis regarding its online marketing efforts for Femara went unreturned at press time. Also at the close of this article, Novartis' Web site for Femara at was “temporarily unavailable as part of a standard review of content.” An updated version was expected to be “available in the next few weeks,” the site read.

Meanwhile, Pfizer's Web site offers a patient support program dubbed “PETALS” where users can opt-in for lifestyle information and an offer for a free 30-day supply of medication. As far as marketing plans for Aromasin during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a Pfizer spokeswoman, told MM&M the company does not reveal its marketing plans in advance.
Tamoxifen, once sold by AstraZeneca under the brand name Nolvadex, lost its US market exclusivity in February 2003.

Digitas Health's Reese hopes that will represent a sea change in the online pharma marketing space. “I see as one in a number of efforts that are happening among like-minded marketers,” Reese says. “We are moving toward much more patient-centric marketing efforts that involve the patient.”

More social media and UGC on the horizon?
Paul Ivans, president of pharma e-marketing consulting firm Evolution Road, agrees that the site is an example of how one pharma company has been able to tap into the social aspect of the Web while staying within the industry's tough regulatory guidelines.

“But there still remains a distinction between pharma trying to tap into user-generated content where people are writing versus tapping into the social aspect of the Web,” Ivans says. “With this AstraZeneca example, people who care about people with breast cancer are showing how they care. That's helping the community. I think that's tapping into the social media aspect and that's where pharma can help. But I think it will be a while before pharma can go into hosting blogs and chatrooms about conditions. That's still way off.”

Jack Barrette, CEO of WEGO Health, a social media interaction sponsored by pharmaceutical advertisers, says he wasn't surprised to learn that AstraZeneca is pushing the envelope with its effort.

“They have been looking for an appropriate way to work with user- contributed content for as long as anyone has,” he says.

According to Barrette, most pharmaceutical companies are currently looking for a safe way to engage in the social media revolution.

“They are actively seeking programs that allow them to participate in UGC while still working within the regulatory constraints that they have. It's a tough box but there are safe ways companies are finding to do it and there is a strong interest in it right now. There's no question about it,” Barrette says.

The challenge for pharma remains in hosting UGC. There's a minefield of adverse reporting issues, according to Barrette. “Pharma companies have just not wanted to host those environments, and I don't think they should,” he says. “They don't want to put advertising next to other people's user-generated content because it's not controlled editorially. This means you need technologies or opportunities for people to work within a very constrained setup. It's a tough one.”

Khee Lee, industry manager, health at Google, envisions a bold and bright future for pharma marketers and their use of online social media and user-generated content.
“Pharma companies are now realizing that they can't ignore UGC and what is going on online,” he says. “The platform already exists. It is just a matter of pharma companies taking advantage of it. For example, YouTube and video has got an incredible scale and reach. It's just a matter of getting involved with communities and other forms of UGC.”

Although it is tough to imagine a place where video supplants everything else, says Compass Healthcare Communications CEO Peter H. Nalen, execution of the idea is not too far off.
“I think like anything else, this industry will find a way to communicate how a therapy or a drug worked for a patient by a video,” Nalen says. “Just like we've seen with (consumer) video blogs now, I think you are going to start to see ads that are all patient testimonials, using patient advocates.”

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