Fake smiles star in Otsuka and Lundbeck's DTC push for Rexulti in depression

Otsuka and Lundbeck's new antipsychotic drug Rexulti, built on the foundation of the now off-patent Abilify, has ramped up a new ad campaign begun in mid-February.

A scene in the new Rexulti ad

While Rexulti is approved to treat both schizophrenia and as an add-on for major depressive disorder, the ads focus on the potentially more lucrative depression market. Somber actors hold up smiley face masks in social and work situations, while the voiceover says some people have to put on a brave face while taking antidepressants because they still have "unresolved symptoms."

Since the campaign launched in mid-February, Otsuka has spent $12.4 million on TV ad placements, according to real-time TV tracker iSpot.tv. The campaign has also spurred Rexulti online searches, which began to spike around the time the campaign began, iSpot.tv data shows. There is a similar smiley face mask campaign currently running in print.

Rexulti was approved by the FDA last summer to treat adults with schizophrenia, and also as an add-on to treat adults with major depressive disorder who are already taking other antidepressant drugs. The FDA recently accepted a review for a new application as a maintenance treatment for schizophrenia with a final decision expected in September.

Otsuka and Lundbeck are positioning Rexulti as a better, branded alternative to generic Abilify, with an initial development program that included studies with more than 4,000 patients. The partners point to data showing a somewhat improved side-effect profile compared to Abilify.

Rexulti became available in the U.S. in August and is pegged to bring in $1.4 billion in peak sales. Otsuka in February reported global sales of Rexulti about $41 million for full year 2015 and projected more than $250 million in sales for 2016. Lundbeck reported its revenue share of Rexulti in the U.S. at $117 million for 2015, and analysts noted that the drug was off to a stronger-than-expected start.

Otsuka, which has faced sales drops with its blockbuster Abilify going off patent, also faces stiff category competition on Rexulti from other new meds, including Allergan's ($AGN) newly approved Vraylar to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adults; Sunovion's Latuda and Novartis' ($NVS) Fanapt, both treatments for schizophrenia. There are also new long-lasting versions of existing drugs in the category, such as Eli Lilly's ($LLY) long-acting version of Zyprexa called Zyprexa Relprevv, and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Invega Trinza, a quarterly formulation of its now off-patent monthly antipsychotic.

- see the FDA Rexulti approval press release
- watch the ad on iSpot.tv

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