Kite Pharma's ASCO ads aim to prep docs on CAR-T ahead of FDA approval

If you’re looking for ASCO, just follow the ads. They're scattered like bread crumbs. But among all those many promos for oncology therapies, only one campaign highlighted a class of drugs that hasn’t received FDA approval yet.

That would be Kite Pharma’s CAR-T therapy posters, seen at O’Hare International Airport and around the conference. The way Kite sees it, the closely watched drug class, expected to hit the market later this year, needs explaining, and the company used ASCO as a chance to point docs toward an educational campaign.

The signage, headlined "Meet Joe," features an average guy with cancer and introduces CAR-T as a technology that "can enable Joe’s T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells.”

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ASCO wasn't the first venue Kite has used to get out the CAR-T word. The company's "Discover CAR-T" campaign launched at the American Society of Hematology annual meeting in December, and it includes a website where doctors can research and request information, a company spokeswoman said. Other media in the campaign include online banners targeting medical professionals and print ads in medical journals.

But if Kite wanted to teach oncologists and other healthcare professionals about the new technology, ASCO was definitely a place the campaign needed to be. After all, it is the biggest annual gathering of cancer doctors. 

“Those of us who have been following (CAR-T) for a while feel like we’ve been talking about it quite a bit, but generally speaking it’s still pretty new,” she said. “This is to help people better understand in more layman terms what CAR-T therapy is and what it does, because there has been a lot of discussion about it.”

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The website includes a “connect” button that promises to connect doctors who fill out a form to “Kite Pharma’s information call center regarding CAR-T investigational therapy.” Physicians can opt in or out of the choice to be contacted by the center.

Another driver for the campaign is clinical trial enrollment, the spokeswoman said. Kite Pharma has 14 different trials going, and the website can help doctors find out about them and possibly recommend them to their patients.

Kite Pharma is hoping to bring the first CAR-T drug to the U.S. this year with its candidate KTE-C19. Kite began its rolling submission with the FDA in early December for an indication in relapsed or refractory aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). But Novartis is pressing its own CAR-T bid at the FDA, too, with its med CTL019. A third competitor, Juno’s JCAR015, has been sidelined, first by the FDA and then voluntarily late last year after several patient deaths in clinical trials.

Of course, Kite wasn’t the only biopharma company on an ASCO  marketing mission. Politico health editor Joanne Kenen tweeted on Friday: “Chicago is so ASCO-ed that bus stop shelters have Merck ads, and free airport wifi is sponsored by an ovarian cancer drug.”

FiercePharma’s own editor Carly Helfand noted the O’Hare terminal chock-full of drug ads, tweeting: “And the winner of the ‘whose ad will I see first at the airport?’ competition is…” with a photo of Tesaro’s Zejula ad.