Amgen darkens the mood in new Repatha TV ads, warning of heart and stroke risks

Amgen won approval in December to expand its Repatha label based on outcomes data. (Amgen)

Amgen has shifted gears with its Repatha TV ad messaging. Gone are the square-wheeled bikes and angular bowling balls serving as symbols for people working hard on their health but still facing high LDL cholesterol levels. New TV ads, rolled out recently, deliver a stronger, more serious message pointing out the potential for LDL cholesterol “pulling you away from everything you love.”

Literally. In two new TV commercials that debuted this week, apparitional EMTs suddenly show up at happy group dinner gatherings. In each, as an ambulance siren goes off, the restaurant dining scene freezes and darkens as two EMTs walk up, place their hands on a guest’s shoulder and begin to pull them away toward a waiting ambulance. The narrator says, “You eat healthy, take statins, but still struggle to lower your LDL bad cholesterol. You also have heart disease and fear a heart attack or stroke could strike without warning, pulling you away from everything you love. Because with high LDL, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is real.”

The ads then change back to the happy scene—the EMTs disappear, the color comes back up and the afflicted person strolls back to the table—as the narrator suggests, “Now you can reduce that risk with Repatha.” The two ads in the series are very similar, the only difference being that one uses a man and the other a woman as the central characters.

Part of the reason for the new direction may be that Amgen won approval in December to expand its Repatha label to say the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes in patients with established heart disease, which is clearly noted in the new advertising.

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When asked about the change in ad messaging, an Amgen spokesperson responded, in part, by email: “Amgen is committed to educating patients and physicians about the importance of lowering cholesterol to prevent life-changing cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. The new advertisement aims to help patients understand that despite treatment with current best therapy to lower LDL-C 'bad cholesterol,' some patients may still be at risk for heart attacks and strokes.”

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Repatha leads the PCSK9 class with an estimated 60% of the market. However, Amgen faces competition from Sanofi and Regeneron’s Praluent, which posted positive data at a cardiology meeting in March showing it reduced death risks by 15% and almost doubled that figure in high-risk patients.

Both pricey drugs—Repatha, for its part, costs an estimated $14,000 per year—faced slow initial uptake thanks to payer restrictions. But the new outcomes data and indication may be changing things, as Amgen reported a 69% fourth-quarter increase in sales of Repatha. Revenue for full-year 2017 reached $225 million, up from $141 million in 2016, Amgen said.