Acadia looks to 'blow up the paradigm' with Parkinson's psychosis drug Nuplazid

Parkinson's disease patients have a 50-50 chance of developing psychosis, according to Acadia's executives. (Van Andel Research Institute)

When doctors first give patients their Parkinson’s diagnoses, their main focus is motor control. And Acadia Pharmaceuticals, maker of Parkinson’s psychosis drug Nuplazid, gets that.

Physicians “are not likely to tell a patient, ‘hey, down the road, there’s a 50-50 shot you’re also going to get psychotic,’” Chief Commercial Officer Michael Yang said. “It’s a very debilitating disease, and they’re just trying to build hope with the patient.”

RELATED: Acadia launches Parkinson’s campaign to shine light on psychosis symptoms

But that fact has given Acadia a big job to do with Nuplazid, which picked up its FDA approval in April 2016 and emerged unscathed late last year after an FDA review examined postmarketing deaths of patients on the drug. “When patients develop these consequences, they’re not aware of them,” Yang said, adding that doctors have also in the past treated patients with older antipsychotics that affect motor skills.

With Nuplazid, “we have an opportunity to kind of blow that entire paradigm up and make patients and caregivers aware that there’s a new way to be treated and also be aware that those symptoms can be ameliorated before you wait till they get really, really acute,” he said.

Acadia has been working to increase awareness about Parkinson’s psychosis, first with an unbranded campaign last year and now with Nuplazid DTC ads, which first graced televisions in late November. Yang described the unbranded campaign as laying out the problem, “and now we’re coming in with a solution.”

Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers are a high TV-watching demographic, he said, calling TV “the main catalyst” for the campaign. But Acadia is also using print, digital and peer-to-peer methods for a “surround sound” effect.

RELATED: Acadia debuts first Nuplazid branded ads, aiming to spark talk of Parkinson's psychosis

On the ground, the company is fielding 150 Nuplazid sales reps targeting two distinct groups: 100 reps are calling on specialists—mainly neurologists—in doctors’ offices, but 50 are part of a group that’s “more of an institutional cell,” working with doctors at nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

That latter group has grown since Nuplazid first hit the scene. “We didn’t really anticipate at launch that that was going to be such a big channel of business for us,” Yang said, pointing out that behavioral symptoms often lead to “deterioration of independent living.”

But still, Acadia has a long way to go when it comes to marketing the drug. Out of the 125,000-patient opportunity it currently sees in the U.S., “we’re in the low double-digit penetration,” Yang said.