Aka-what? Fanapt maker Vanda puts antipsychotic side effect front and center in TV awareness ads

From the pharma company who educated the TV-watching world about then-little-known Non-24 disorder comes another unusual push: akathisia awareness.

Vanda Pharmaceuticals, which makes the antipsychotic medication Fanapt, recently rolled out a national TV campaign to tackle the uncommon word. Akathisia, a side effect of some schizophrenia drugs, literally means “inability to sit” and is defined as an inner restlessness that can compel sufferers to crave constant motion.

It's no accident that Vanda is highlighting this side effect. Clinical trials have shown Fanapt boasts a low akathisia profile, while the side effect is more common in patients using competing medications. As one analyst noted last year, Vanda intends "to more aggressively pursue patient switches due to this side effect in competing products."

Two different TV ads are set in gritty cityscapes, but take different tactics. The first ad describes the symptoms schizophrenia patients may feel if akathisia arises, such as restlessness, extreme anxiety and a constant urge to move. The second commercial relies more on imagery than words, following a young man riding a bike down empty city streets.

The ad simply notes that people with schizophrenia may suffer from “something called akathisia,” concluding with: “It’s time we took notice.” Both ads feature the same textover at the bottom of the ad's ending, “Sponsored by Vanda Pharmaceuticals,” and direct viewers to two different websites—myakathisia.com and yourakathisia.com, which redirect to gotakathisia.com—to learn more.

When asked for more information about the campaign, Vanda executive VP and CFO Jim Kelly said only, “The akathisia campaign is aimed to create public awareness around this serious condition that can be associated with some medication used to treat schizophrenia,” in an emailed statement to FiercePharma.

Fanapt sales haven't exactly zoomed ahead since launch, but sales have been building; the drug brought in $74.3 million in 2016, a year-over-year increase of 13%. Vanda recently expanded its Fanapt salesforce, but on the company's second-quarter earnings call, executives said the company “need[s] more data and more time for our salesforce in the field to be able to see that impact.”

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Vanda also hopes Fanapt can expand beyond schizophrenia as other atypical antipsychotics have. “[A]s we know, atypical antipsychotics typically have captured not just a portion of this schizophrenia market but also ... mood disorders, major depressive disorder, anxiety treatment or bipolar disorder, depression or mania," CEO Mihael Polymeropoulos said during the call, according to Seeking Alpha's transcript. "So, we're highly interested to understand how Fanapt can play in this.”

Vanda recently received a thumbs-down in Europe as a treatment for adults with schizophrenia; a key drug review committee said the benefits of the drug, called Fanaptum there, didn't outweigh its risks. Vanda said it intends to as for a re-examination of the data. Vanda reacquired rights to Fanapt from Novartis in 2014.

Vanda is known for its popularization of the medical condition Non-24—a circadian rhythm disorder that tends to be more common among blind people—through an aggressive campaign of disease awareness TV ads beginning in 2014. Vanda markets the drug Hetlioz, a treatment for Non-24. The new akathisia awareness advertising was created by Merkley + Partners, which is the same agency that created the Non-24 campaign for Vanda.

Though Vanda has been criticized for its mainstream Non-24 marketing, experts also agree the campaign is the reason consumer awareness of Non-24 has soared. The awareness push is still running, and it has totaled an estimated $50 million in national TV ad buys since it began, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker iSpot.tv.