Merck KGaA starts awareness push to help docs unravel form of MS, opening new front in Sanofi fight

Merck KGaA is laying the groundwork for its closely watched multiple sclerosis (MS) drug candidate. With phase 3 data imminent, the German drugmaker has begun an awareness campaign to inform physicians about a form of the neurological disease that its treatment may be able to address. 

Traditionally, physicians have assessed MS in terms of relapse and certain visible lesions on MRI scans. Yet, some patients gradually lose the ability to perform daily activities despite their MS appearing stable by those traditional measures. The failure of relapse-preventing drugs to stop the accumulation of disability has spurred interest in “smoldering MS,” chronic inflammation in the central nervous system.

Merck is one of a clutch of drug developers to identify BTK inhibitors as a way to tackle smoldering MS. And, with a pair of phase 3 trials of its BTK candidate evobrutinib passing their primary completion dates early this month, the company is working to raise awareness of the role of the mechanism in smoldering MS. 

The result is Unravel Smoldering MS, an educational campaign designed to help neurologists understand the disease accumulation that may be affecting their patients. The awareness website features a photo of a Black woman walking up steps behind her daughter. Threads, a motif used across the site, trail from the woman’s arms and legs, and the text asks whether smoldering MS is “starting to unravel her abilities.”

Across the rest of the website, Merck discusses what smoldering MS is, how it affects patients, how to assess the condition and the role of BTK. Merck makes no mention of its BTK inhibitor but does explain how the enzyme regulates the activity of immune cells implicated in smoldering MS.

The launch of the campaign follows the start of a similar initiative at Sanofi, which is developing a rival BTK inhibitor. Sanofi’s website features a match head that looks like a brain. Parts of the brain smolder, giving off light and smoke, and text says “once sparked, smoldering neuroinflammation is destructive.” Like Merck, Sanofi discusses the role of BTK on the site.