Armed with 900 reps, Takeda aims for the Contrave marketing hat-trick

With Contrave, Takeda is trying to go where no new-age weight-loss drugmakers have gone before. That means achieving the ultimate marketing goal of getting physicians to back its therapy, patients to stick with it and payers to cover it. And to help it take a shot at that trifecta, it's putting a force of 900 reps behind the drug.

Step 1: Get the word out to docs. As Katie Andino, Takeda's director of obesity marketing, told Medical Marketing & Media, a piece of that marketing army will make visits solely devoted to Contrave, while others will be equipped to discuss Contrave as well as Takeda's diabetes meds.

Diabetes is an area those reps have plenty of experience with after hawking now off-patent blockbuster Actos. Thanks to the obesity-diabetes link, Takeda can build on its prior relationships with endocrinologists and other physicians, while other reps target docs like OB/GYNs, cardiologists and primary care physicians, Andino said.

Step 2: Get consumers on board--and keep them there. As MM&M notes, Contrave maker Orexigen ($OREX) has already set the tone for patient interaction with its clinical trial recruitment, which it treated more like a product launch than an enrollment push. For example, it tossed terms that evoked negative responses with patients, including "very overweight" and "obese." And that consumer-friendly pitch helped well exceed its trial enrollment goals.

Like many of its pharma peers, Orexigen is also going mobile with its approach to keeping patients reeled in. Last week, company CEO Mike Narachi said its mobile behavior modification resource has already been run through three randomized trials.

And finally, Step 3: Snag a spot on insurer formularies. For that, Andino told MM&M she doesn't expect to wait until next year. Takeda's payer group will be talking about Contrave with insurers as early as this fall.

But if it sounds like an easy plan, it's not. Takeda and Orexigen need to look only to Contrave's recent predecessors--Arena's ($ARNA) Belviq, marketed by Eisai, and Vivus' ($VVUS) Qsymia--to know success in the weight-loss market is anything but certain.

Both of those drugs have foundered since their respective launches, with Vivus' marketing blunders last year spurring an all-out proxy war. And though Arena has had the advantage of Eisai behind it, it hasn't fared much better; Belviq racked up just $25 million in 2013 sales, compared with Qsymia's $23.7 million.

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