Looking to grow some trust, GW Pharma takes physicians on VR 'voyage' to marijuana greenhouse

The Bloc's Aaron Sidorov and GW Pharmaceuticals' Julie Baker present Epidiolex strategy to Lions Health attendees. (Bulik)(Beth Snyder Bulik)

CANNES, FRANCE—GW Pharmaceuticals' strategy for promoting its new epilepsy drug Epidiolex to doctors sounded simple—earn their trust. But that's easier said than done, no thanks to Kim Kardashian.

As GW Pharma's Julie Baker told a standing-room-only crowd here, “A lot of people, especially in the medical community, were really skeptical about CBD. They associate it with pseudoscience and fluff—and Kim Kardashian isn’t helping. Her fourth baby shower was CBD-themed.”

Add in the myriad online cannabidiol (CBD) dispensaries, grocery store gummies and trendy bar cocktails, and the barriers to gaining physicians' trust grew even higher. Epidiolex is the first and still only FDA-approved drug derived from the cannabis plant, and it's specifically indicated to treat two rare forms of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

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So GW and its agency The Bloc decided to give doctors a tour, with a virtual hands-on look at the pharma's growing operations outside London. The Bloc created a VR experience that takes doctors around and inside the marijuana greenhouses—a glass structure so massive, it could fit every American football stadium inside it.

Within the VR journey, doctors ride on skids, and they can stop and look at any point—to examine the interior, machinery and just about anything else.

“This was about stripping down the walls. This was inviting the world into the manufacturing process behind something that had never been done before,” said Aaron Sidorov, creative director at The Bloc. “How could we basically dispel any misconceptions they could have? And our thought was, let’s them just see it for themselves.”

The idea was to show doctors the grand scale of GW’s facilities as well as let them, from a more clinical standpoint, learn about the operation, he said.

The idea initially came from Baker, who was so impressed by her first visit she wanted to show off the greenhouses to every doctor in the U.S.—and she told Sidorov so. If they only saw it, she told him, “they would understand that this is real medicine." He said OK.

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Of the finished tour, Sidorov said, “What we’re most proud of is not that it’s VR. It’s not that we pulled this off in an absolutely insane time frame. It’s that it perfectly paid off our strategy—trust. Because the more and more we can get physicians to take a second out of their day and put on this VR headset and step inside the inner workings of Epidiolex, the more likely they are to believe in (the) treatment.”

GW is also continuing to market to patients and caregivers, and it's prepping an Epidiolex Facebook page for launch soon. The page will use previously shot videos of patients and families telling their stories—in their own words with no script—created for the website.

Epidiolex so far is off to a booming start with 10,000 patients treated by April this year, just five months after it launched. In its first full quarter on the market, the drug notched sales of $33.5 million, more than double analyst expectations of $16 million.