Zebra subway car runs through Boston to draw attention to rare diseases

Boston subway riders will see zebra stripes this month in the form of a car wrapped by pharma and biotech ad agency Cambridge BioMarketing to raise rare disease awareness.

Bostonians may be seeing stripes this month, thanks to Cambridge BioMarketing, a pharma and biotech ad agency that specializes in orphan drugs. It has wrapped a subway car on the MBTA's Red Line in zebra stripes to raise awareness of rare diseases.

Why zebra stripes? Rare diseases are often likened to animals in the healthcare industry because of the “rule” that if it has hooves it must be a horse. However, as rare-disease patients and caregivers know, sometimes the hooves belong to a zebra.

“The car is meant to be visually intriguing and invite people in, and then inside the car there are all sorts of statistics and promotional messages around the idea that rare diseases are actually much more common than you think,” Mike Hodgson, chief creative officer at Cambridge BioMarketing, said in an interview.

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The wrapped car will run through the biotech hub of Cambridge, achieving two goals: Giving a nod to the many scientists and biopharma workers tackling rare disease challenges there, and raising awareness within the general community. The promotion will continue through March in celebration of Rare Disease Day, which is the last day of February.

Cambridge BioMarketing is encouraging people to use the campaign title #SupportTheSearch on social media, and for each mention it will make donations to three rare disease groups: NORD, Global Genes and The Rare Disease United Foundation.

The marketing effort is not on behalf of any specific clients; rather, it's a push created and paid for by the agency. Its clients include Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Takeda oncology company Millennium. This is not Cambridge’s first rare-disease awareness campaign. Last year, it created a film called Rare in Common chronicling the journey of several rare disease patients.

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