Bristol Myers-Squibb raised eyebrows last September when they unveiled a major direct-to-consumer campaign to promote oncology immunotherapy blockbuster Opdivo in second-line, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Opdivo is the first major oncology brand to serve up a traditional, fully fledged DTC campaign including a significant broadcast TV presence, blazing a path that may soon be well travelled.
Traditionally, companies marketing oncology therapies have focused their attention on the prescribing physician, and with good reason. Oncology is a high-science, data-driven specialty that requires intimate familiarity with complex treatment algorithms, and patients usually rely heavily on their oncologist to make treatment decisions. But don’t underestimate the importance of communicating with consumers in oncology.
Here are 3 reasons why DTC marketing will continue to be a major and growing force in oncology in 2016 and beyond:
- Patient power—In the Internet age, it has become far easier for patients to become informed about their disease, even in cancer with all its complexities. On social media, we see patients and survivors sharing information and discussing their treatment experiences in huge numbers. Moreover, Google-savvy millennials are increasingly becoming caregivers for parents and grandparents with cancer, creating a new generation of informed advocates.
- Cancer is on the rise— A growing and aging population means that in more prevalent cancers like breast or prostate cancer, we are going to begin to see patient populations that are worth communicating with on a mass-media scale. According to a recent report from the American Cancer Society, the cancer burden is expected to rise significantly by 2030. In 2012 there were an estimated 13.7 million people living with cancer in the United States; in 2030 there will be over 20 million.
- Area of impact—Unlike psoriasis or IBD, cancer is not a disease that you keep between yourself and your doctor, and maybe a significant other. It impacts extended family, friends, and entire communities. Everyone is aware of it and everyone wants to help. An oncology commercial doesn’t have to be seen by a patient: It will reach and influence the patient’s family and friends too, who are eager to share information about potential new treatments and options that may not have been considered. For example, while a new breast cancer therapy may have an eligible patient population of just a few hundred thousand, a TV commercial can reach out to millions within the disease’s “area of impact” who are eagerly seeking information about new therapeutic options.
The oncology market has doubled from $48 billion in 2008, to over $100 billion in 2016. EvaluatePharma predicts it will reach $153 billion in 2020, 3 times the size of the next-largest market (diabetes). The oncologist is, and will remain, the key audience for companies promoting cancer treatments. But as the category continues to expand and competition becomes fiercer, don’t be surprised to see companies increasingly reaching out to consumers to gain a competitive edge.