J&J, AbbVie, Roche and more sponsor cancer content for concerned patients amid COVID-19 pandemic

cancer newspaper
The COVID-19 crisis is driving cancer patients, and drugmaker sponsors, online for news and information. (PDPics/Pixabay)

Cancer patients are turning to trusted advocates and fellow patients for information during the COVID-19 crisis, and pharma advertisers are taking note.

Andrew Schorr, a medical journalist living with two blood cancers, said consumer traffic increased 40% to Patient Power—a cancer community and information website he co-founded with his wife, Esther Schorr, 15 years ago—in April compared with March, with a rate of about 6,000 visits a day. One of the key reasons? New 30-minute webinars addressing specific cancer concerns around COVID-19.

Drugmakers noticed the uptick, and now Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, Incyte, AbbVie and Roche's Genentech have all signed on as sponsors of the videos. The series, called “Answers Now,” will address issues and concerns across different types of cancer, with pharma sponsors for each.

“The general media just wasn’t doing that kind of content. They were talking about COVID-19 precautions for people with diabetes or heart conditions or older people, but they weren’t talking to people with cancer, and we thought, "What about the issues for those of us with cancer?'” Schorr said.

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Part of the attraction for pharma is the speed at which Patient Power can produce content for cancer patients during COVID-19 versus the longer time it may take for larger and less nimble companies to create, Schorr said. Advocacy groups that work with Patient Power are contributing experts and insights to the webinars and content being created.

“What seems to be happening overall is movement from broader DTC ads on TV to supporting these topical interactive discussions, in this case for cancer patient audiences,” he said.

Another cancer health media group, SurvivorNet, launched a first-ever streaming content service for cancer survivors. It fast-tracked the planned launch of SurvivorNet TV to offer additional support during the COVID-19 crisis and includes healthcare guidance, news, breakthroughs and stories related to the pandemic. Pharma company sponsorships are currently in negotiations, a spokesperson for SurvivorNet said.

"We expedited the launch of SNTV at a time when millions of cancer survivors and caregivers are stuck at home and in need of informative, inspiring and uplifting content," Steve Alperin, co-founder and CEO of SurvivorNet and former managing editor at ABCNews.com, said in a news release.

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While most cancer drugs are not directly involved in the COVID-19 industry scramble for treatments and vaccines, the pandemic is causing disruption for those pharma companies working on patient treatments and new drug launches as well as bringing abrupt changes to digital for work and communications.