GSK fires up 'Smolder' lupus awareness campaign to remind docs of potential organ damage

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
Physicians who treat lupus patients are the target of GlaxoSmithKline's latest effort, which encourages them to think about organ damage the autoimmune disease can cause. (GSK)

GlaxoSmithKline is encouraging physicians to act sooner to help lupus patients curb undetected organ damage in its latest digital awareness effort.

The unbranded “Smolder” effort, aimed at doctors, asks them to consider the damage the often-silent autoimmune disease may be causing their patients. That idea is illustrated on the campaign website, “Smoldering Truth,” picturing a happy young family—but the mom has flames smoldering on her back and ashes being cast off.

Doctors can read research there or click through for information on treatments, doing which will redirect (with permission) to GSK’s physician website about systemic lupus erythematosus or, specifically, to GSK lupus drug Benlysta's website.

RELATED: GSK offers makeovers and more for women of color living with lupus

“What we’re trying to do is to get physicians to act sooner and help them to understand that the longer you wait to act and get aggressive with the treatment of patients with lupus, the more likely patients are to experience organ damage,” said Carla Pearson, vice president of the U.S. specialty marketing team at GSK.

This is the first time GSK has addressed lupus organ damage in an unbranded campaign, although it’s not an angle likely to translate to a consumer effort. Pearson said the message for patients with lupus is focused on symptoms, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and conversations with doctors.

The all-digital effort syncs with life during the COVID-19 pandemic when in-person visits are fewer, whether between patient and doctor or sales rep and doctor. Along with more digital marketing, the pandemic has sparked an increase in call center inquiries, including requests for financial assistance.

“(With) COVID-19, we’re all learning to operate in virtual environments. We’re all learning and thinking about how we can create self-service tools such that physicians and patients, depending on what their question is or what their need is, will have a digital resource,” Pearson said.

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline's Benlysta eyes lupus sales boost after kidney trial win

Benlysta, approved in 2011 and still the sole biologic approved to treat systemic lupus erythematosus, may be on track to add another indication after a positive phase 3 readout in lupus nephritis from December.

The drug recorded sales of €613 million ($717.2 million) in 2019, a 25% increase over the previous year. It continued rising in early 2020 with sales of €151 million ($176.7 million) in the first quarter, an increase of 24% year over year. GSK reported the first-quarter jump was “driven by increased HCP engagement and sc formulation,” referring to its self-care formulation, which is an at-home injectable approved in 2017.