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Biologics and DTC: Mainstream ad campaigns now price of admission for biologic brands

Speciality biologic drugs may be a smaller share of the market, but they’re growing fastest—and competition is fierce. No surprise, then, that more and more biologic brands are launching with direct-to-consumer campaigns. But the rise of empowered consumers is also driving the new advertising reality, says one agency exec.

Biologics, such as new immuno-oncology and autoimmune meds and next-gen vaccines, are innovative but complicated. They’re the kind of drugs that traditionally would be marketed mainly to professionals, said Nichole Davies, chief strategy officer at Wunderman Thompson Health.

But as more patients become more involved in their healthcare, from the meds they take to the prices they pay for them, it’s become more common to market complex drugs directly to them. In fact, biologics such as AbbVie’s Humira, Novartis’ Cosentyx and Merck & Co.’s Keytruda have been some of the biggest DTC advertising spenders over the past few years.

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“DTC really represents an opportunity to create awareness, educate and drive that empowered patient to play a more significant role in their treatment decisions,” Davies said. “Marketers are opening up to the opportunity that consumers represent a great way to drive the market forward.”

That doesn’t mean consumer advertising will become the be-all, end-all of drug marketing, though. “I don’t think it’s about taking your foot off the accelerator with the professional and just completely focusing on the consumer—or vice versa,” she added.

Another factor is the pressure to do DTC within specific therapy areas. Next-generation drugs to treat anti-inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis seem to come with a DTC mandate. The same goes for immuno-oncology drugs, and not just big TV ads like those fielded by Keytruda and Opdivo, but also digital and social campaigns.

Why? Because both media have shown to be effective at getting patients to “ask your doctor” about specific brands.

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A DRG Digital | Manhattan Research patient study in 2018 found that among patients who had seen or heard a TV ad in the past year, 22% requested a specific drug from their doctors. Among patients who had seen or heard an online ad, 42% asked for a drug brand by name.

There are other benefits, though. Davies said informed consumers translate to active participants in making clinical decisions along with their doctors, which can lead to strengthened trust between the two.

“We anticipate that biologics will continue to advance the state of medicine—and that DTC will retain its critical role in educating and empowering today’s consumer with sought-after information that assists in making the most informed health decisions,” she said.