Dendreon to amp up DTC support for Provenge

Dendreon ($DNDN) is turning to patients to boost demand for its prostate cancer treatment Provenge. Faced with lower-than-expected sales of the personalized therapy, the company plans to expand consumer advertising, Medical Marketing & Media reports, based on an analyst's note to investors. The DTC move comes as Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Zytiga pill poses an increasing threat to the already faltering uptake of Provenge.

As MM&M reports, DTC marketing will roll out into new regions to support geographic expansion of Dendreon's network of treatment centers. The company hasn't said which regions it's planning to target, Collins Stewart analyst Salveen Richter wrote to investors after meeting with management. Richter said he figures the additional marketing efforts can help Dendreon push Provenge to peak sales of $500 million, an estimate that won't please Provenge enthusiasts who still peg the drug as a blockbuster.

The DTC expansion follows a revamped doc-detailing approach Dendreon began in July, Richter noted. The company added sales reps with urology experience to focus urologists' attention on Provenge, and to educate them about a couple of the features of Provenge treatment that have been cited as obstacles to uptake. "Current Provenge sales come largely from oncologists; however, most recently enrolled centers are urology practices," Richter wrote (as quoted by MM&M).

One of those obstacles is reimbursement, a key issue given the drug's $93,000 price tag and short treatment span, which forces doctors to front the cost until payers send their checks. Another is the clinically intensive therapy, which includes withdrawal of blood cells that are used to individualize Provenge. Recently, oncologists and analysts have noted that Zytiga's relatively lower cost, plus its ease of use, make it a formidable rival to the Dendreon treatment (Richter called the competition from Zytiga "limited").

- read the MM&M story