Gilead pushes hep C testing in baby boomers as its blockbusters plummet

Gilead's latest disease awareness campaign for hepatitis C encourages baby boomers to get tested.

Gilead's hep C blockbusters are in freefall, and its pool of eligible patients has shrunk dramatically thanks to the success of its meds. If all baby boomers got tested for the virus, though? That could help stem the tide—and it's exactly the move the company is recommending with its latest awareness push. 

With its second awareness effort—the first began in 2014 before its hep C combo Harvoni hit the market—the Big Biotech reaches out to the almost 75 million people born between 1945 and 1965, following the age range used by the CDC in its recommendation that all baby boomers get tested for hepatitis C. 

"For millions of baby boomers, there's a virus out there. A virus that's serious, like HIV, but it hasn't been talked about much," a narrator says over images of active boomers looking out over majestic nature scenes. "One in 30 boomers has hep C, yet most don't even know it," the narrator notes, before going over the disease's liver damage and cancer risks and reminding viewers that testing is "the only way to know for sure."

While the first awareness campaign sought to re-engage people diagnosed with hep C, the current campaign, dubbed “Forgotten Virus,” goes out more broadly to baby boomers who may not know about the disease, to encourage testing and also to let them know that if they do have it, it can be cured, said David Johnson, Gilead VP, U.S. sales and marketing for liver diseases, in an email interview. Boomers are about five times more likely to have hep C than other adults.

“This has been a planned evolution of our disease awareness efforts, to reach a much broader audience once the pool of already diagnosed patients who often had advanced disease and were in need of curative therapy, had been treated,” he said. “This staged approach was also important to ensure healthcare providers were equipped to support patients asking to be tested, as even for primary care providers, this disease was not something that was high on their radar due to the lack of scientific advances in the past to treat the disease.”

The campaign comes at a time when sales of one-time record-breakers Harvoni and component med Sovaldi are slumping; Gilead recently reported that Harvoni sales dropped by 34% in 2016, thanks to competition, payer discounting and the inevitable slowdown of patients, as many people who had hep C when the combo launched have now been treated. Targeting unaware baby boomers could unearth new patients that need treatment.

Media for the new awareness campaign includes TV, digital, paid search and point-of-care, with near-term plans to incorporate social media and out-of-home.

Johnson said the initial response to the campaign has been “very positive,” with high rates of engagement across different channels, including call centers, social media, and healthcare providers.

As part of its efforts, Gilead works with local and regional organizations to support hep C education and awareness, mostly through community events where people can talk to hepatitis C educators—although in some cases, local health systems have also done on-site screenings, he said.

Along with the awareness effort, Gilead has been running a branded campaign for Harvoni, “I am Ready,” which highlights the promise of its cure for hepatitis C. That effort has totaled more than $112 million in TV ad spending since its launch in April 2015, according to data.