Novartis teams with iHeart and feel-good singer Andy Grammer for virtual MS event

Novartis and iHeartRadio hit a high note with award-winning feel-good singer Andy Grammer for a virtual concert to raise multiple sclerosis awareness. The event extended Novartis' collaboration with iHeartRadio begun in October with the launch of its sponsored “MS Vibes” channel on its streaming network.

To mark National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month and celebrate the courage of people living with MS, "A Night for MS Awareness" featured Grammer in a livestreamed virtual event on iHeartRadio’s YouTube channel March 11.

Emceed by radio personality Skeery Jones from “Elvis Duran and the Morning Show” and MS patient advocate Kate Milliken, the 40-minute show can be viewed on YouTube through this week. Jones and Milliken are also co-hosts of a monthly podcast, “MS Journeys,” airing on Novartis and iHeartRadio’s joint “MS Vibes” channel.

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Because of pandemic restrictions, the co-hosts and Grammer dialed in from different places, with the singer performing from his studio in Los Angeles. Grammer, who started performing as a busker, is known for songs with positive messages and uplifting sentiments.

Leverne Marsh, Novartis’ vice president and head of the neuroscience franchise in the U.S., said reputation was one reason the company tapped Grammer for the show.

“We chose Andy precisely because he has such inspirational music, and we wanted to create an event that inspires and celebrates both people living with MS and those around them," she said.

The hosts started by showing off their orange ribbons to signify community support, then introduced Grammer, who kicked off the concert with a song he introduced as even in a difficult year it's "Good to Be Alive."

Milliken talked about what MS is and her experience living with the condition during the show.

"The world of MS has unpredictability and that takes a lot of getting used to," she said. Her MS journey has come with some positives, she said, such as "finding this incredible community."

Milliken pointed out that Grammer was chosen partly for his musical style and the fact that he takes time to listen to the many people who come up to him to talk about their own adversities.

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Novartis and iHeartRadio began their collaboration with the “MS Vibes” channel in the fall, followed by the "MS Journeys" podcast debut in December. The channel features music curated for people living with MS along with their care partners, advocates and healthcare support teams. From its launch through January, the station tallied more than 18,000 unique visitors and more than 36,000 views.

Novartis' portfolio of MS drugs includes Gilenya, Mayzent and newcomer Kesimpta, which won FDA approval in August. Kesimpta, a self-administered injection that targets CD20-expressing B cells, recently launched its first DTC campaign highlighting its appeal for less "MS Drama" for relapsing MS patients.

Kesimpta's chief competitor is Roche's Ocrevus, and, despite a slow start during the pandemic, Novartis expects it can grab market share up to 40%.