Roche’s Genentech taps A-lister Morgan Freeman for cancer PSA

Actor Morgan Freeman is joining Roche's Genentech and Stand Up To Cancer for a new PSA.

Genentech and partner Stand Up To Cancer have enlisted one of Hollywood’s most famous voices for a new cancer PSA. Actor Morgan Freeman, along with cancer survivor Tonya Peat, star in the educational ads that celebrate the progress against cancer and encourage people to get involved in clinical trials, screenings and prevention.

The new PSA campaign, which includes TV, print, radio, digital, and social media elements, is an extension of the Genentech and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) co-created education campaign “Be the Breakthrough,” launched in May. The Freeman work comes just after the debut and critical acclaim of the cancer documentary “The C Word,” which the actor narrates and helped produce. The film is meant to change public perception about cancer and how it can be fought.

Coming next year in the “Breakthrough” campaign will be more SU2C celebrity ambassadors joining the social media campaign, which has already kicked off with Genentech asking people to share their stories on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #CancerBreakthrough. Also next year, an artist in real time will turn some of those stories into animations or meme visual images, Holli Kolkey, Genentech associate director, corporate relations, told FiercePharma in an interview.

“This is just the first piece of this Breakthrough initiative. Next year we will be adding the next component of this, which will not only tie in awareness, but also a behavioral ask of people,” she said. Other partners will be involved in that next step, which, while Kolkey said she can’t reveal it just yet, is a big step that comes with the goal to “change the trajectory of cancer.”

Roche currently faces a market challenge with its next generation cancer fighter Tecentriq as it goes up against Bristol Myers-Squibb Opdivo and Merck & Co.’s Keytruda. Tecentriq, which had been approved to treat bladder cancer, was approved in October to also treat lung cancer, setting up the three-way battle with the established players. Although Tecentriq is third to that market, Roche is the leading pharma in cancer treatments, and its strong relationships in oncology could help win doctors over to Tencentriq. The company also sees Tecentriq’s PD-L1 target, versus the other two drug’s PD-1 target, as a differentiator and an advantage.

Genentech is a longtime partner to SU2C; it was a major donor to the Ken Burns’ PBS series “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" as one of its big initial collaborations. It is also a collaborator with Catalyst, a SU2C program that works with partner companies in pharma, biotech, and medical devices to give funding and materials to accelerate cancer treatments and research. Genentech cancer meds involved in Catalyst include Tecentriq, Avastin, Zelboraf, and Herceptin.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments and information from Genentech.