What does cancer look like? That's what Bayer asked patients in new genomic-testing push

For the national launch of its cancer diagnostics campaign, Bayer asked patients to literally picture their cancers. Some of the responses might be expected—a heavy weight, a dark shadow—but others weren't.

For instance, 7-year-old Elysa drew her cancer as a small monster she calls Bobette. But make no mistake, Elysa said: Bobette is “not cute and fluffy, she’s kinda scary and mean.”

Elysa is one of the two patients Bayer chose to feature in its “Test Your Cancer” campaign’s online videos. They're designed to encourage cancer patients to seek genomic testing that can identify mutations for targeted treatment.

In voiceovers, other patients offer descriptions of their cancer, while still more drawings and descriptions are featured on the campaign website.

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Drawing on global market research, Bayer designed the campaign to show patients that "to fight their cancer in a very precise way, they have to see the real picture of their cancer,” said Cindy North, Bayer's director of direct-to-consumer oncology marketing.

The effort began in February with a soft launch at the Super Bowl, with an ad in the official program. The national push began May 1 as an all-digital multimedia effort with search already live. Social media work, including Facebook, YouTube and Buzzfeed, is coming soon.

Bayer has reason to flag genomic testing to cancer patients. The German drugmaker recently went all-in on Vitrakvi, which won approval in November to treat patients with solid tumors that have a neurotrophic receptor tyrosine kinase (NTRK) gene fusion. The approval stretches across multiple tumor types, but as analysts noted at the time, NTRK testing is not routine.

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Overall, only 25% of cancer patients have discussed genomic cancer testing with their doctor, North said, despite the growing number of drugs approved to target cancers with particular genetic abnormalities.

“Our goal is to facilitate a movement. We want every single person out there who is living with or who knows someone touched by cancer to understand they need to speak to their doctors about the potential of genomic cancer testing,” she said. “It’s (currently) not happening as part of the everyday doctor/patient relationship.”