Bristol-Myers' new Opdivo ad touts biomarker advantage over Merck's Keytruda


Opdivo is on a roll. The Bristol-Myers Squibb cancer immunotherapy wonder drug now has 8 FDA approvals and blasted Q1 sales estimates by a wide margin. Still, Bristol-Myers isn’t relaxing. Last week, it launched new DTC advertising that touts its wide adoption--and a key competitive advantage.

Begun May 16, the new TV, print and digital Opdivo ads are updates to the original “Longer Life” campaign begun last fall. The new work adds the expanded indication “for previously treated advanced non-small cell lung cancer patients, regardless of PD-L1 expression,” said a Bristol-Myers ($BMY) spokeswoman via email interview.

While the new TV spot is similar to the original in tone and style--the use of cityscapes and white-lettered messages projected onto streets and buildings continues--it also mentions that Opdivo is now “the most prescribed immunotherapy” for this patient population and that PD-L1 testing isn’t needed. The ad’s voiceover intones “No biomarker testing is required with Opdivo, though physicians may choose to do so.”

It’s been a key competitive advantage over Merck’s ($MRK) Keytruda, which does require biomarker testing to determine PD-L1 positivity. More than 60% of new lung-cancer patients who are eligible for immunotherapy are being prescribed Opdivo, The Wall Street Journal reported in March, attributing that lack of need for PD-L1 expression as a major reason.

Bristol-Myers is sticking to an old-style mass marketing approach with Opdivo, “bucking the trend toward precision medicine,” the WSJ noted, and in the process, it had “outflanked” Merck in that market niche. Both Opdivo and Keytruda are second-line therapies, and analysts do project that if the drugs become first line, bundling biomarker tests into early stage biopsy testing will become easier and level the playing field.

Still, for now, the difference may be showing up in the bottom line as well. 2015 sales of Opdivo were $2.1 billion versus Keytruda sales of $566 million.

Bristol-Myers so far has spent more than $2.3 million on the new TV airing in less than a week, according to real-time TV ad tracker It has dropped more than $60 million on the original ad since it first aired in late September.

When asked about consumer feedback on the campaign to date, the Bristol-Myers spokeswoman said, “While it is too early to determine the overall impact of our campaign, we have been encouraged by the feedback we received from caregivers, patients and the broader healthcare community and are committed to bringing more attention to NSCLC and hope to patients and their families.”

- see the ad at
- read the WSJ coverage (sub. req.)

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