Bristol-Myers is counting on DTC to keep driving Eliquis growth

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) says its Eliquis DTC campaign is doing its part to help get sales where the company wants them. Revenues for the anticoagulant may not be where many analysts expected they'd be when they talked the drug up as a future $3-billion-a-year blockbuster. But they are on the rise--thanks, in part, to the campaign, launched in September. And BMS says it's not stopping there.

Eliquis' U.S. revenues reached $48 million in the fourth quarter, clearing consensus estimates of $41 million. And as Chief Commercial Officer Giovanni Caforio said on a call with investors Friday, a "very broad DTC campaign in the U.S." from BMS and partner Pfizer ($PFE) helped drive increased demand.

"We also remain … very committed to Eliquis and … have decided to increase our resources behind it," CEO Lamberto Andreotti said on the call. "We've been seeing encouraging trends for Eliquis in the U.S and internationally with strong growth in the last quarter, and we're confident in its potential."

While a BMS spokeswoman couldn't comment on the Eliquis advertising budget, the company said its overall advertising and product promotion spending swelled 20% to hit $254 million in Q4. And CFO Charles Bancroft told shareholders Friday that the company's "increased medical education activities and DTC advertising, which … are helping us educate physicians about Eliquis' differentiated profile," would continue in 2014.

Also continuing will be BMS and Pfizer's investment in broadening the drug's label, a spokeswoman said. The FDA in December accepted a Supplemental NDA for Eliquis as a preventative for deep vein thrombrosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), aiming to make a decision by the end of this August. The drug already has approval for DVT and PE prevention in Europe, and BMS expects an approval for the treatment of venous thromboembolism to arrive this year as well.

Those indications should give the drug a boost as it slugs it out in the relatively new warfarin-alternative arena, where it's currently up against Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa, and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Bayer's Xarelto. Both of those drugs got off to much hotter starts. Even after the recent growth, Eliquis' uptake remains "disappointing despite the product's excellent overall clinical profile," Leerink Partners analyst Seamus Fernandez said in an investor note.

Understanding Eliquis' data set and distinct advantages takes time--or so BMS management has claimed, Fernandez wrote in December. Still, he expects sales to pick up with the right force behind them. "Marketing and sales efforts, peer-to-peer dialogue, and DTC investment ought to buck this trend," he wrote.

But as far as defining Eliquis' edge over its competitors, a critic at Pharma Marketing Blog isn't so sure that BMS' advertising is getting it done. DTC ads for Pradaxa, Xarelto and Eliquis have a lot in common, he notes. The three campaigns all use similar imagery to pit the drugs against their shared enemy--high-maintenance warfarin. Whether Eliquis' particular superior-to-warfarin claims gain any traction is questionable. But though the individual DTC campaigns may not help consumers choose one over another, together they're raising awareness of the warfarin-alternative meds--which could, in turn, help them all.

- check out an Eliquis TV ad at iSpot
- see the post at Pharma Marketing Blog

Special Reports: Eliquis - Blockbuster buzz: 15 Top Therapies | Top 10 DTC pharma advertisers

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