With Entresto slowly gaining traction, Novartis launches first heart failure social network

Novartis has created the first dedicated social network for heart failure patients and caregivers.

Typically on the forefront of social media in pharma—and struggling to grow a heart failure drug that seemed a slam-dunk—Novartis has created the first dedicated social network for HF patients and caregivers.

The drugmaker's “Together in HF” effort aims to help heart failure patients connect and share and find information to manage their condition, a spokesman for the drug maker said.

The social venture went public in late October, but it has been two years in the making, as a Novartis team and its partners worked behind the scenes with patients and the larger heart failure community. Novartis’ patient and advocacy collaborators in the effort include WomenHeart, the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses, the Association of Black Cardiologists, and Mended Heart.

The groups opted to create a dedicated network, instead of creating a community on an existing platform such as Facebook, to ensure privacy and convenience for patients.

“This is a safe space for members of the community to share their stories and connect,” said Mary McGowan, CEO at WomenHeart. “…The opportunity to connect with one another online is really critical, and this is a 24/7 opportunity to do that when it’s convenient, and when the patient needs that information and social support they’re seeking.”

Novartis has struggled to gain market share with its heart failure drug Entresto since its launch last year, facing problems including slow physician adoption and insurance coverage. That changed somewhat after a boost earlier this year, when it was singled out for recommendation by professional groups including the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Heart Failure Society of America. Novartis reported steady growth for Q3 with $53 million in sales for Entresto, noting that it is currently expanding its primary care field force in the U.S. and expects sales of $200 million for the year.

The new social network is designed to meet particular needs the partners discovered in their up-front research. “Through our work with the different organizations and societies, as well as patients and caregivers, we discovered the importance of the emotional aspects of HF," the Novartis spokesman said via email. "We learned that people needed an environment where they could meet and share their stories with others who had similar experiences. They also wanted heart health information they could use to manage their condition."

Together in HF’s website contains resource lists, patient stories, tips for living with HF, inspirational content, and a special section for caregivers. Among the resources listed is Novartis’ own Heart Partner app, which launched last November. The app helps heart failure patients track vital signs and physical activity, store important health information, and coordinate care with physicians and others.

Meanwhile, Novartis is running a branded Entresto campaign that began this spring with a series of TV ads featuring older heart failure patients singing the Annie show tune "Tomorrow" as they go about their day. The company also recently sponsored an effort with actress and singer Queen Latifah, in the form of Facebook Live outreach online, in which she tells her mother’s HF story.

Just after the Together in HF network launched, former Novartis U.S. head of social media Melissa Mackey, who is a well-known pharma industry digital player, left the company. Mackey includes helping to found the Together in HF network on her social media channel bio. The Novartis spokesman confirmed she had left the company earlier this month, but he wouldn't provide comment on her work on Together in HF.