Last blast? New Amgen TV ad spotlights Neulasta delivery just months before patent expiration

Amgen is giving Neulasta its first TV advertising push in years--just months before its patent expires. But there's a case to be made for promoting the biologic this late in the game.

Begun last week, the spot features two sisters discussing the younger sister's cancer and the benefits of Neulasta, which is approved to fight infection during chemotherapy. At the end of the spot, Neulasta's new delivery method, approved in March, is pictured.

That method--in which patients wear Neulasta's On-Body Injector to deliver the drug the day after chemotherapy, negating a repeat visit and ensuring correct timing--is worth pushing as a differentiator. A recent article in Fortune discussed the growing trend in pharma of taking existing drug therapies and making them more effective with new delivery methods and drug combinations. With those kind of tactics, approval time and development costs for known and already FDA-approved drugs are cut, the article notes. Amgen ($AMGN) told investors in the fall that one of its biosimilar defense strategies across its portfolio is the development of new delivery methods.

The ad began airing July 21 and within one week had spent almost $1.1 million in media buying, according to iSpot.tv, which tracks TV ad metrics in real time. The 300+ airings have run heavily on ABC programs including Today, ABC World News and Good Morning America, iSpot noted, adding that Amgen hasn't run any TV ads for Neulasta since before 2013. In the mid-2000s, however, Amgen spent millions on the brand when Neulasta was a vied-for $50 million ad account, according to Adweek.

There's another reason to continue marketing despite the looming patent expiration, too. While several biosimilars are on the way, the overall post-patent expiration market is far different with biologics than with chemical drugs, which are more easily and inexpensively reproduced. In markets where biosimilars have already rolled out, the cost difference is only about 20% less per year per patient, compared with 75% less for generics, according to ARK Invest research. And since the introduction of biosimilars in 2006 in Europe, biosimilars have captured only 11% of the biologics market in the first 5 years of adoption, ARK reports.

Neulasta brought in $4.6 billion in global revenue in 2014, just above its $4.4 billion total for 2013. It already faces at least one biosimilar challenge from Apotex, which is awaiting FDA approval. More are also on the horizon from Teva ($TEVA), which has EU-approved biosimilar versions of both Neupogen and Neulasta, as well as from Novartis ($NVS), Sandoz and Coherus, all in trials.

Amgen declined to talk about its strategy with the new ad campaign, only commenting that the company believes DTC advertising can be a "powerful tool to help increase awareness about diseases, educate patients about treatment options and motivate patients and consumers to talk with their physicians about medicines." A spokeswoman added, via email, only that the goal of the campaign "is to educate appropriate cancer patients undergoing myelosuppressive chemotherapy about the potential risk of infection."

- read the Fortune article
- see the ARK research

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