'Black people don't get psoriasis': Bristol Myers moves to counter myths in global skin disease campaign

Bristol Myers Squibb is taking a look at psoriasis around the world, presenting the testimonies of people in Asia, Europe and North America to show how the condition affects people with different colors of skin.

The campaign, which BMS launched in conjunction with World Psoriasis Day, centers on a website that currently features video testimonies from eight people plus an interactive globe with map markers on the locations of the speakers. Further down the page, BMS, which sells the psoriasis drug Sotyktu, shows facts about how the skin condition is different for people of color on flip cards. 

Fran De Sena, vice president, global commercialization and market communications at BMS, explained that BMS believes it is important to raise awareness of how psoriasis is experienced differently in people of color because of the feedback it has received. Patients have “consistently” said “their psoriasis was initially misdiagnosed which resulted in significant delays to find an effective treatment,” De Sena said.  

The psoriasis around the world website features the testimonies of patients who were misdiagnosed. In one video, Thelmetrice, a Black woman from Florida, explains how she has seen seven dermatologists in relation to the skin condition she developed at age 30. Eventually, Thelmetrice was diagnosed as having psoriasis, but it was a long process.

“I finally broke down and went to my primary care. After a while I went to the dermatologist. Being an African American, [psoriasis] looks different. And so a lot of doctors are not familiar with psoriasis with the African American community,” Thelmetrice says. 

In another video, Diane, a Black woman from Maryland, says “there have been many times in my life where a healthcare professional didn't understand my condition, because of the color of my skin.” One doctor told Diane that “Black people don't get psoriasis.” 

White people receive a psoriasis diagnosis three times faster than people of color, according to the BMS website. One problem, according to Geeta Yadav, M.D., a dermatologist featured on the BMS website, is that educational materials for medical students contain “limited” images of skin disease in people of color. That is a problem, because “psoriasis can present on skin color very differently,” Yadav said.

BMS’ website features the testimony of patients and physicians alongside the views of advocates. The company is focusing its efforts to “spur dialogue and raise awareness” on each of those stakeholder groups, De Sena said. 

“To do that, we’re executing integrated communications across Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn,” the BMS VP said. “Additionally, we sent a communication to more than 10,000 U.S. HCPs to announce the campaign. We know this is a topic of increasing importance in the dermatology community.”

The campaign comes as BMS works to kick-start the commercialization of Sotyktu, a drug that is part of a batch of new products that it expects to drive growth in the coming years. Sales of the psoriasis drug hit (PDF) $66 million in the third quarter, an improvement over the previous three months that still fell short of where BMS hoped to be at this stage. 

Talking to investors on a quarterly results conference call in October, Chris Boerner, Ph.D., BMS’ new CEO, said Sotyktu “growth has been slower than expected.” BMS is seeing “nice increases in share,” Boerner said, but “access continues to be the main constraint.” Boerner expects access to improve next year, but it will take longer than expected to get coverage to where BMS wants “given emerging payer dynamics.”

BMS’ peak outlook for Sotyktu is unchanged, but the climb to that high may be slower than anticipated. That outlook is consistent with the forecast for the broader group of new medicines. BMS still expects the products to deliver but has pushed back its target for growing sales of the drugs to $10 billion from 2025 to 2026.