Novartis' first Kesimpta ad push offers break from relapsing MS 'drama'

Novartis
Novartis' first DTC campaign for relapsing MS drug Kesimpta debuted in January, five months after it got an FDA nod. (Novartis)

Novartis’ first TV ad for Kesimpta offers the prospect of less drama—less relapsing multiple sclerosis drama, that is.

During the commercial, phrases representing that drama such as “unpredictable relapses” and “disability progression” pop up around a young woman as she goes about her day. But another issue that pops up on screen—infusion days—may cause some drama itself.

That's because it's describing rival infusion treatments for MS, including Kesimpta’s chief competitor Ocrevus, a Roche drug that also works by targeting CD20-expressing B-cells.

In the ad, Kesimpta’s self-administered injection sits on a shelf in the woman’s refrigerator. The voiceover intones, “With relapsing MS, there’s a lot to deal with. Not just unpredictable relapses—all these other things, too. Who needs all that kind of drama?” The woman reaches in the fridge for the Kesimpta box and pushes the pile of problem pop-ups aside.

The DTC campaign is built on insights from relapsing MS patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups. Through that research, Novartis defined several specific disease burdens as “RMS drama,” Leverne Marsh, VP and Novartis’ head of the neuroscience franchise in the U.S., said in an email interview.

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“Our intention is to be real about what MS is and is not, recognize the challenges of living with RMS, and provide a treatment option that combines safety and efficacy with administration flexibility,” she said.

In two head-to-head studies with Sanofi’s Aubagio, Kesimpta came out on top in reducing the rate of relapse and active lesions and slowing disability progression. It was not compared head-to-head with Ocrevus.

Kesimpta was approved in August after the FDA initially extended its review by two months. Novartis first rolled out the drug to physicians in state-by-state digital efforts during the pandemic.

Sales of Kesimpta, slowed by the pandemic, notched $14 million in the fourth quarter. Novartis executives told reporters in January that the slow start doesn't change its overall expectations for the med—it's still anticipating a market share grab of up to 40%.

Novartis pharma President Marie-France Tschudin said the company expects to see an uptick in Kesimpta sales in the second half of 2021 as pandemic-related slowdowns abate and as Novartis puts its "full commercial power" behind the drug.

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The DTC campaign for Kesimpta—which also includes digital, social media and print ads—launches into a crowded marketplace. It includes not only Ocrevus and Aubagio, but also S1P modulators like Bristol Myers Squibb's new Zeposia, Novartis’ own Mayzent and Johnson & Johnson’s candidate ponesimod. Biogen’s Vumerity and EMD Serono’s Mavenclad are other treatments new to the MS space in the past two years.

Kesimpta joins Ocrevus on TV as the only two current MS drugs advertising in national commercials.

Ocrevus’ campaign, “Dear MS,” has been running on and off since September 2019 with $140 million spent to date on national media buys, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker iSpot.tv. The Kesimpta “Dramatic Results, Less Drama” commercial began in January, spending $7.4 million in its initial month on air, according to iSpot.