Stand Up to Cancer executives talk celebrities, partnerships and research for pharma marketers

Morgan Freeman stars in Stand Up To Cancer and Genentech's PSA to encourage cancer patients to enroll in clinical trials. (Stand Up To Cancer)

Stand Up To Cancer launched 10 years ago with the mission to bring new cancer treatments to patients quickly. But they knew they couldn’t do it alone. Along with celebrities and media companies, pharma companies have come to be key partners for the organization in funding, research and messaging.

But what makes those collaborations work? CEO Sung Poblete and one of Stand Up’s co-founders, Lisa Paulsen, filled in the blanks at the recent FiercePharmaMarketing Forum.

Research is the key area where the two meet—Stand Up To Cancer’s Catalyst program started two years ago with charter founding partners Merck & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb and Genentech, and has brought in other pharma companies for clinical trial projects, including AbbVie, Iovance and Tesaro.

Catalyst is overseen by the American Association for Cancer Research and uses funding and access to drugs from pharma companies to run clinical trials that, among other things, investigate new uses for existing drugs or try them in combinations.

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Messaging is also important. Stand Up To Cancer has a vast store of donated celebrity and media resources it taps to help pharma companies get messages out. Paulsen and Poblete highlighted the “Be the Breakthrough” effort, for instance. The campaign with Genentech features actor Morgan Freeman in public service ads that encourage people to sign up for clinical trials, screenings and prevention. 

Clinical trial recruiting is an important theme in Stand Up’s pharma partnerships. Another effort, begun this year, stars actress Sonequa Martin-Green along with real patients who “Stand Up For Us All.” The work highlights the importance of clinical trials and asks patients to participate—noting that today less than 5% of cancer patients enroll in trials nationwide. Oncology drugmakers desperately need that number to increase; they're searching for patients with specific genetic characteristics for hundreds of their own clinical trials.

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“We’re engaged in using media assets and resources with pharma partners and also involve celebrities who can deliver their messages in interesting and effective ways to draw people in," Paulsen said. "We’re trying to break down barriers and demystify what it means to participate in a clinical trial and pharma partners help us get there."

Another message focus is new immunotherapies. Poblete showed an example of Stand Up and pharma working together to celebrate immunotherapies, along with Bristol-Myers Squibb and actor Jimmy Smits in the “Your Body, Your Hope” campaign that began last year. The ad explains what immunotherapy is and encourages patients to talk to their doctors about it.