Fresh off securing a historic approval to market Olumiant for treating patients with alopecia areata, Eli Lilly and Incyte are taking their awareness message digital.
The educational push, on social media and other digital channels, is designed to show that severe alopecia areata involves more than just hair loss, explained Ashley Diaz-Granados, VP, US immunology at Lilly USA.
“Our main goal right now is really driving broad awareness and education on the burden of alopecia,” Diaz-Granados said.
The Food and Drug Administration greenlit the drug for use in adults with severe alopecia last month. The decision marked the first-ever FDA approval of a systemic treatment for the autoimmune disorder, which the agency said causes roughly 300,000 people in the U.S. to lose their hair each year.
Among them is actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who has shared publicly that she has the condition, in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere. Alternative treatment options have ranged from the cosmetic (wigs and false eyelashes) to off-label therapies (corticosteroid injections in the scalp).
A day after the approval, Lilly began running a pair of unbranded ads on Facebook and Instagram announcing the approval, according to information provided by ad intelligence firm PranifyRx. The ads drive traffic to a product approval announcement on the drugmaker’s site.
The company is also running brand-connected ads on Google, with keywords related to “alopecia areata” driving to Olumiant.com.
“We have a unique omnichannel campaign focused on targeting people living with alopecia areata and what platforms they actually regularly engage with,” Diaz-Granados said.
The pharma company has also supported a number of patient experience videos on the website of the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, the largest patient advocacy group. The videos feature a diverse group of community members talking about the disorder’s physical and mental impact, and sharing advice for others.
On the professional side, Lilly is supporting peer-to-peer training – both in-person and virtual – with leading dermatologists and national hair experts, as well as providing efficacy and safety information to clinicians. In coming weeks, the drugmaker’s dermatology sales force will drop off samples and provide education and support to doctors and their office staff, Diaz-Granados noted.
Olumiant (baricitinib) belongs to a class of medications known as JAK inhibitors. Like the ones being developed by Pfizer and Concert Pharmaceuticals, Olumiant was already on the market for rheumatoid arthritis. Earlier this year, baricitinib picked up another label expansion for treating certain people with COVID-19.
While JAK inhibitors tamp down the specific immune reaction involved in alopecia, efficacy has varied depending on dosage. In two phase 3 trials of Olumiant, about 20% of adults taking the 2-mg pill saw 80% of scalp regrowth after 36 weeks. Among those taking the 4-mg pill, roughly a third achieved that level of scalp coverage. The 4-mg cohort also saw improvement in eyelashes and eyebrow growth.
Concert Pharma shared similarly upbeat findings for its own drug. FDA approval paves the way for insurance to cover the drugs – which, in Olumiant’s case, costs $2,500 a month. A support program promises a personalized approach and copay assistance.
“We are aggressively engaged in conversations with payers right now,” said Diaz-Granados.
In terms of safety, Olumiant arrived with a black box warning, the most serious kind. Patients, the FDA said, needed to be made aware of the potential for serious infections, mortality, malignancy, major adverse cardiovascular events and thrombosis. That reflects recent scrutiny on the whole JAK inhibitor class, although Lilly has said its drug has proven safe over time.
Additional marketing efforts are in the works, Diaz-Granados said. Per company estimates, up to 700,000 people in the U.S. are living with the disease, when factoring in people with less severe cases of the disorder. About 147 million people worldwide have or will have alopecia.
Which makes Olumiant’s approval all the more significant. “It’s bringing hope to both healthcare providers, who desperately have wanted to be able to provide a solution, as well as for people seeking out treatment,” said Diaz-Granados.