Biogen's controversial Tecfidera ad is about to meet its end

Biogen’s DTC ad for multiple sclerosis pill Tecfidera has garnered its fair share of criticism from patients who say it’s unrealistic. But that didn’t stop the TV commercial from getting the job done, the company says--and now that it has, it’s on its way off the air.

The current TV campaign is set to expire in the middle of this year, Biogen CFO Paul Clancy told investors on last week’s first-quarter earnings call. And that’ll be it on the TV front for a while.

“We plan to sunset this lever” for “various reasons,” Clancy said, and the company isn’t currently planning to invest in any additional TV spots. But it will keep its Tecfidera marketing efforts going across other channels, both print and digital.

The way the company sees it, the main purpose of the TV commercial was to increase awareness of the drug, whose slowing growth trajectory last year spooked investors.

“We had data suggesting that when patients did learn about Tecfidera and went to their physicians to discuss it, they often had it prescribed,” CEO George Scangos said on the call. And the ad did succeed at that, he pointed out, noting that “those ads don’t run forever.”

The awareness factor is one reason the spot--the only multiple sclerosis ad of its kind--garnered support from some patients, despite claims from others that it portrayed patients as unrealistically active.

"I am the first one to be encouraging, but your ad takes it beyond that," one patient blogger criticized. "Even people with 'normal' health will not hike, swim and go to the fair in one day and still look so good; someone with MS would be out of the day before they hit noon."

Biogen will find out whether that awareness translated into prescriptions by the end of the current quarter, and it’ll update shareholders accordingly with its next earnings report. After that, the company will “see what we learn and make decisions about any potential future television ads,” Scangos said.

Meanwhile, Tecfidera generated first-quarter sales in line with analyst estimates, notching $946 million--although revenue from the drug did decrease from the previous quarter, Evercore ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum wrote in a note to clients. And with Tecfidera and fellow MS treatment Tysabri currently up against IP challenges, the company is scouting for deals of various types and sizes.

- see the call transcript

Special Reports: Top 15 Drug Launch Superstars - Tecfidera - Biogen | The top 10 best-selling multiple sclerosis drugs of 2013 - Tecfidera

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