Novartis sponsors Queen Latifah's mom-inspired heart failure awareness push

Actress and singer Queen Latifah recently took her passion for heart disease awareness live on social media, leading a “Rise Above Heart Failure” panel discussion on Facebook Live on World Heart Day. Novartis sponsored the American Heart Association's effort.

Novartis has struggled to gain share with its heart failure med Entresto because of the treatment's high price tag, despite strong endorsements from leading cardiac groups and published research advising physicians to switch to the drug. And using a softer-style disease awareness campaign with a very likable celebrity is a contrast to its harder-hitting Entresto DTC marketing, which sparked protests from cardiologists and consumers for its stark depiction equating heart failure to a room filling with water while a patient calmly reads the paper.

That ad was quickly discontinued, replaced this spring with more sentimental ads featuring older heart failure patients warbling the Annie show tune "Tomorrow" as they go about their day.

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“The way people look for health information is constantly evolving, and we do our best to keep up with the needs of our audiences,” a Novartis spokesman said in an email interview with FiercePharma. “We were drawn by the potential of Facebook Live to reach a wide audience in real time, to facilitate live engagement, and to allow on-demand viewing.”

Novartis will be launching a “new social media initiative for the HF community” in the coming months, he added.

Latifah has been the spokesperson for Rise Above since it launched last year. Novartis approached her and her mother Rita Owens, and they joined the effort as a way to amp up the conversation around heart failure and inspire people to make small changes in their daily lives to manage the disease. Owens was diagnosed with heart failure after she passed out as school teacher while in her early 50s, and before that, she didn’t know she had heart problems.

Both Latifah and her mother participate in events, videos, media interviews and on social media as part of the initiative.

Latifah "wants to underscore the role of caregivers in the treatment and management of heart failure because it is important for people to know the symptoms, and not just think they are natural signs of aging. It’s also important to have an open and honest dialogue with your doctor, and to take steps to manage the condition and live a fuller, healthier life," the Novartis spokesman said.

Novartis worked with the AHA to launch the effort after a 2015 report from the association detailed the impact of heart failure in America, including the physical, emotional and social impact of it. Rise Above is designed to raise awareness and understanding about the disease, Novartis said.

Novartis has been underwhelmed by Entresto’s launch, but it has reason to hope for better traction. The American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Heart Failure Society of America have all recommended that doctors switch patients to the drug, while a study published in JAMA Cardiology this summer predicted that using Entresto could prevent more than 28,000 deaths annually. Novartis has also double downed on Entresto marketing and committed to spending $200 million more on marketing and development. The company forecasts $200 million in sales for 2016.

-- read more about Latifah and her mother’s HF story

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