Horizon switched up strategy for Tepezza launch, moving quickly to DTC to reach eye disease patients

Seventy-seven percent of opthalmologist offices closed during the pandemic—and that was a big problem for Horizon's then-newly approved thyroid eye disease medicine Tepezza. 

So the company got creative. It built a network of more than 1,000 infusion centers, moved to digital communications with doctors and took its message directly to consumers. Although it's not typical in the drug industry to launch DTC so quickly after a drug's launch, the company needed to compensate for the office closings, Horizon Chairman and CEO Tim Walbert said in an interview during the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference.

That move initially included digital marketing but expanded to regional TV advertising in the third quarter and, in December, to a large national run on TV. The three ads now running are literally eye-catching, animated images that fill the screen with inflamed, itchy and painfully dry eyes caused by thyroid eye disease. 

The unbranded ads encourage viewers to go to TreatTED.com to learn about more treatment options.

RELATED: Horizon notches blockbuster FDA approval for rare eye disease med Tepezza

The result? In 2020, Horizon logged 1 million visits to thryoideye.com and Tepezza.com, with 60% coming in December alone—when the national ads began. Once on the website, people can use Horizon's physician finder to look up a local doctor who treats the condition; that feature notched 120,000 searches in December.

The website, considering its target patient, offers visitors the option to have the page read to them; it's also specifically tailored visually to be more accessible for eye disease sufferers.

“TED can make reading hard. So we’re dedicated to making our materials more accessible," a Horizon spokesperson said in an email, adding, "The result is the font you see here, called 'Tiresias,' designed specifically for people with low vision by the Royal National Institute of Blind People.”

RELATED: Horizon's Tepezza supply dwindles as manufacturer Catalent pivots to Warp Speed vaccines

However, while Horizon was reaching new patients and creating demand for Tepezza, at the end of November it got bad news from contract manufacturer Catalent, which canceled its manufacturing slots from December on. The manufacturer had been ordered by the Operation Warp Speed vaccine program to prioritize COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing, citing the Defense Production Act of 1950, which allows the government to commandeer production in emergencies.

Horizon quickly negotiated to get back one run per month with a larger number of vials in each lot. That first run in December will be submitted for review soon, and the FDA has indicated it will expedite that process, Walbert said.

"It's an unfortunate situation, for a good reason, with Operation Warp Speed working to get the vaccine out for COVID-19," he said. "We were the unfortunate victims of that situation, but we rapidly put plans together and we see the ability to resolve that in short order."

Horizon expects, in a worst-case scenario, to get back to meeting demand by the end of the first quarter, but it's hopeful the supply shortfall will resolve sooner.