Apellis takes it slow with first Syfovre DTC campaign

Apellis Pharmaceuticals is taking a slow and steady approach to advertising Syfovre, its treatment for geographic atrophy (GA), a late-stage form of age-related macular degeneration.

Rather than diving immediately into drug-specific ads after earning the FDA’s first-ever approval for a GA treatment last year, Apellis instead chose to ramp up its disease-specific education and awareness campaigns. To wit: Within a few months of the nod, the company kicked off an educational campaign starring Henry Winkler, whose father-in-law had GA.

Now, a little over a year after the drug’s February 2023 approval, Apellis has launched the first direct-to-consumer ads for Syfovre. Rather fittingly, that unhurried approach mirrors the message of the drug’s first ad, which focuses largely on how Syfovre can help slow the progression of GA.

In an interview with Fierce Pharma Marketing, David Acheson, Apellis’ senior vice president of commercial for North America, said the decision to continue with GA educational efforts before introducing a branded campaign was “very clear,” since Syfovre marked the first FDA-approved treatment in the space.

“We wanted to make sure we educated physicians and patients, so that patients could go in to a referring physician or their retina specialist and say, ‘Hey, listen, I think I saw a commercial that tells me about the disease I’ve got called geographic something.’ And then they have a conversation around it—because it was not well known,” he said, noting that about 50% of GA patients don’t regularly visit a retina specialist and so may not be aware that their vision changes are associated with a common condition.

Though the Winkler-led educational spots will continue to run for now, per Acheson, Apellis last month began rolling out the branded campaign, too.

“The branded gives us an opportunity to home in on what we call a rally cry. We really want patients, now that they’ve got a little bit of education around the disease state, to understand that there’s a treatment and that they now have some power to go have input in their treatment,” he said. “So that’s the reason why we stepped it the way that we did in the launch for the first year.”

The new campaign includes a minute-long commercial in which a voice-over informs viewers that GA can “irreversibly damage your vision” and “progress faster than you think” but that Syfovre can slow the growth of atrophic lesions. Meanwhile, a group of older adults are shown painting slow-moving animals over their eyes. Though the patients and background are depicted in grayscale, their eyes and the animals—including a snail, sloth and turtle—are shown in vivid, high-contrast hues that are tailored to the ad’s target low-vision audience.

The ad can be viewed on the updated Syfovre website, which is decked out with related imagery. The commercial and other campaign materials will be served via print, digital and TV channels “where the audience spends their time,” Acheson said. The last of those is especially important: The average age for a GA diagnosis typically falls between 75 and 85, which, as he noted, is a group that “spends quite a bit of time watching television.”

Wherever they see it, the goal of the campaign is to encourage people who have been diagnosed with GA or suspect they have the condition to “take action by talking to their physicians” about both GA and Syfovre as a possible treatment, according to Acheson, who described it as an opportunity to continue educating patients.

Apellis will then measure the success of the campaign based not only on reports from doctors but also on the results of market research—quantifying how patients’ and physicians’ awareness of Syfovre has grown due to the commercial—and on consumers’ engagement with the Syfovre website, he said.