Argenx has decided to do something a little different with its new unbranded DTC ad for myasthenia gravis (MG). The TV ad does not spend much time talking about the disease itself but largely points out that a new med is now available for patients, though the drug is never never mentioned directly.
There are typically two types of pharma ads: One is upfront and branded, talking about a company’s drug, its name, what it does and who it’s for. Then there are unbranded ads, which are focused more on raising awareness about diseases for which drugs are sold.
Argenx's unbranded ad does not call out its recently approved drug, Vyvgart, by name but leans heavily on a drug promotion approach. The ad is titled simply “New Treatment Option,” and the 30-second spot shows several patients talking about why they want a new therapy—mainly because they want a normal life to work, to see friends, to get out of the house and to smile in family photos.
MG, which can cause severe muscle weakness, can stop patients from doing all of that. The narrator says “a new FDA-approved treatment for adults with [MG] could help them do more of the daily activities they care about.” It then directs the viewer to a link, NOW4MG.com, which takes you directly to a Vyvgart branded landing page.
When asked about this strategy, Rebecca McLeod, argenx’ U.S. general manager and marketing lead, said: “What we’ve heard from the patient population over the past few years is that [there] hasn’t been much forward innovation in treatments for them, and very little done in awareness."
In terms of raising awareness about the disease, McLeod said argenx's focus has largely been on talking to doctors and drilling down into Vyvgart's new mechanism of action. Argenx has live sales reps out in the field despite COVID, though the pandemic is making this “difficult,” McLeod said.
“We’re also, partly because of COVID, focusing on non-personal promotion as well and trying to get through the clutter and finding a mix of meeting in-person or virtually and even deciding where [healthcare professionals] want to be met.” Some people want reps coming into the office, but others are more willing to connect if it’s not in person, and McLeod said they are looking to be pragmatic in their approach to cater for that.
In addition, in the run-up to the FDA approval two months ago for carcinogen fears—argenx's first ever commercial product—the biopharma spent several years boosting awareness of MG. Vyvgart nabbed FDA approval Dec. 17, 2021.
Argenx's disease awareness strategy included light-up nights around the country back in 2020 swiftly followed by a patient website debut and then a docuseries about the autoimmune disorder. In 2021, it turned to celebrity chef Sean Brock to debut an online cookbook with recipes for people with MG, who can have difficulty chewing and swallowing.
TV ads are not always the best way to get the attention of rare patients. Alnylam, which markets three RNAi drugs for rare diseases, this week told Fierce Pharma Marketing that for its newest drug Givlaari, it was deliberately not taking the DTC route because only around 5,000 patients in the U.S. and Europe have acute hepatic porphyria, the condition its drug is approved to treat.
But for argenx, the 65,000-patient number hits a sweet spot for DTCs to be worth the money. “We made a very deliberate decision out of the gate to go with an unbranded campaign to raise awareness of the disease itself,” explained McLeod.
The biopharma may in the future have two more competitors in UCB and Johnson & Johnson, which both have late-stage MG assets, and UCB is nearing an FDA filing. For its part, J&J just this week set up an early marketing push in MG.
But argenx isn’t looking over its shoulder at what its competitors are doing. McLeod said it’s still “very early days” in terms of launch, having only been on the market for eight weeks, but that argenx is “cautiously optimistic” and “looking for a gradual uptake” of the drug.