Sweating it out? Dermira’s armpit awareness push gets Qbrexza ready to roll

Dermira's awareness TV ad for hyperhydrosis uses the arm "lockdown" to illustrate the embarrassment and anxiety of people with the excessive sweating condition. (Dermira)

What do underhugs and lockdowns have in common? They’re both tactics used by people embarrassed about hyperhidrosis—the technical term for excessive sweating. They pin their arms at their sides for hugs and photos to hide telltale underarm sweat puddles soaking through their shirts.

The same tactics star in new hyperhidrosis TV awareness advertising from Dermira, which last week picked up an FDA nod for its anti-sweat treatment Qbrexza. The once-daily topical Qbrexza cloth will hit shelves in October, and while Dermira is planning a branded launch campaign—including TV—it’s already seen a huge swell of interest prompted by the awareness TV ad. The TV spot hit in June, six months after the awareness website’s December debut.

RELATED: Roche in part-sale of mixed bag lebrikizumab to Dermira

“We’re seeing, in the first three weeks of the TV ad, five to six times as much traffic on the website as we were seeing with the web campaign alone,” said Lori Lyons-Williams, Dermira’s chief commercial officer in an interview.

Even more important is what the web visitors are doing, she said. In the first weeks of the TV ad, as many people have filled out an excessive-sweating symptom survey as they did in the first six months of the year. Visitors are also connecting more often—half of those who’ve signed up for Dermira’s customer relationship management email did so since the TV ad launched.

Dermira aims to sign up 100,000 people for the CRM program by the launch, and as Lyons-Williams said, the company is “well on our way to achieving that.”

In the meantime, Dermira is building out its sales force for a rollout mainly targeting dermatologists, but also primary care physicians who write prescriptions in the segment. There, too, Dermira has seen an overwhelming response. More than 10,000 potential reps have applied for the 112 jobs, Lyons-Williams said.

Next up for Dermira is looking at additional indications for Qbrexza. Its first approval specifically covers primary axillary hyperhidrosis or excessive underarm sweating. Of the estimated 15 million Americans who have hyperhidrosis, about 10 million suffer from the underarm variation, while others sweat excessively  on the hands, feet and face.

New to the commercial side of dermatology—Qbrexza is its first FDA nod—Dermira has other skin meds in its pipeline, including a phase 2 drug in atopic dermatitis—an IL-13 called lebrikizumab—with data expected at the beginning of 2019. The company faced a setback in March, when it dropped its experimental acne treatment olumacostat glasaretil after it flunked a pair of phase 3 trials.

RELATED: Dermira posts broadly positive results for excessive sweat drug

Lyons-Williams, who spent 15 years at Allergan before joining Dermira 18 months ago—some of that time on Allergan’s Botox for hyperhidrosis—is optimistic about Qbrexza. While Botox has proven effective for hyperhidrosis, it’s had limited uptake in part because of the burden of injections and barriers to insurance coverage, she said, with just $70 million in sales in that indication.

 “We’re very happy with the activity we’ve seen,” she said. “I think there are a number of reasons for us to believe that there are lots of patients out there waiting for a good option and we believe we’re going to be able to activate them—first through the unbranded campaign, and then ultimately through a branded campaign as well.”

Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote in a note to investors, “I have to admit: I was in the more skeptic camp on unmet need for drug treatments in hyperhidrosis … until I saw a workshop hosted by FDA where I listened to many patient stories about the social stigma/unsuccessful job interviews etc.”

He estimates $200 million in peak risk-adjusted sales for Qbrexza.