GlaxoSmithKline debuts DTC campaign for lupus med Benlysta as it looks to cement category lead

GSK launches its first DTC campaign for Benlysta as it faces a raft of new lupus meds potentially on the way. (GlaxoSmithKline)

Lupus patients star in GlaxoSmithKline’s first-ever DTC ads for Benlysta, as the pharma looks to cement its founder status in the category.

Three young women step up in the new “Sorry Lupus” campaign TV ads to talk about managing their condition. Instead of opting out of family and fun by saying “Sorry, I can’t,” they turn the tables on the disease and don’t allow it to rule their lives.

As young mom Stephanie says, “Instead of being mad at lupus, I’m like, ‘Thanks for coming, you’ve taught me a lesson and you can stay, but now you’re along for my ride. Sorry, lupus, you don’t get to run this show.’”

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GSK is running the commercials on connected TV, including Hulu and Roku, because its research found its younger target audience watches more targeted TV. A digital and social companion effort includes messaging for healthcare professionals who treat lupus.

“At the end of the day, we need patients to feel empowered so that they speak up,” said Sheri Mullen, senior VP and business head of specialty at GSK. “Every symptom matters. Symptoms over time can cause organ damage and we have to treat earlier.”

Benlysta was the first drug approved to treat the most common form of lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), in 2011 as an infusion and later in 2017 in a self-injectable form. In December, it added a lupus nephritis indication. One month later, however, upstart Aurinia snagged its first-ever drug approval with an FDA nod for Lupkynis to treat lupus nephritis. Renal issues are common in SLE, with as many as 60% of adult patients developing kidney problems.

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While Benlysta and Lupkynis are the only lupus nephritis options for now, a new group of lupus meds is potentially on the way. The up-and-comers include several already approved for other uses, such as Roche Genentech’s Gazyva in cancer and Janssen's Tremfya and Novartis' Cosentyx for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Meanwhile, others in testing include Bristol Myers Squibb's TYK2 inhibitor deucravacitinib and AstraZeneca's monoclonal antibody anifrolumab.

Mullen acknowledged the upcoming competitors, including a likely nod for a competitor in the broader SLE area later this year, but said more options are good for the market. She remains confident in Benlysta’s longer track record, clinical evidence and differentiator in delaying long-term organ damage.

“As a leader in lupus, what do we want? We want more patients being treated. With more treatment options out there, I believe the tides will rise and there will be even greater awareness,” Mullen said.